Project Highlights
  • Inspiring cultural gathering space to engage the community
  • Investment in downtown Decorah, Iowa to welcome generations of visitors
  • Focus on sustainability using mass timber construction
  • Marks the second mass timber building in the state

Vesterheim Commons, located in downtown Decorah, is a cultural gathering place and dynamic entry point for the museum campus which promotes innovative programming and celebrates the Norwegian-American heritage. The three-story, 7,600-square-foot building unifies the Vesterheim campus and aims to establish Decorah as a destination for world-class exhibits. It features a multi-use space for meetings, classes, lectures, and concerts for 100 people, a full commercial kitchen, gallery spaces, artifact collection study rooms, digital production studio and a welcoming entrance space. Indoor/outdoor connections flow throughout the building and include an outdoor patio for hosting events and receptions with a view of the newly reimagined Heritage Park. The project focus is on sustainability with the use of mass timber construction and regionally sourced materials that honor the beauty of the city’s natural surroundings and the craftsman heritage featured in the museum’s collections.



partners mass timber and steel


low embodied carbon superstructure


Service Provided
  • Structural engineering


Material selections throughout the project were one of the highest priorities to emphasize sustainability, local sources, and the tactile tradition of Norwegian crafts. MBJ facilitated the selection of mass timber for the superstructure resulting in a lowered embodied carbon of the structure. The exposed wood honors the beauty of Decorah’s natural surroundings and fosters a connected experience from the interior of the museum to the adjacent reforested Heritage Park. The mass timber was fabricated in Albert Lea, Minnesota within 100 miles of the site and completion of this project will mark only the second mass timber building in Iowa. To maintain the character and history of the museum campus, MBJ and the project team saved the interior limestone and brick wall from the original building.

The building features an oval oculus in the second floor which illuminates the lobby and flexible event space and connects the two areas. This opening and the uniquely crafted oculus rail are supported by the second level wood framing with additional skewed framing to create the desired shape and provide support.

Visitors are welcomed by a distinctive sweeping canopy cantilevered from the building. This majestic entrance showcases the glued laminated timber structural system and the materiality of the building. MBJ analyzed the combined performance of mass timber and steel to accomplish the ambitious open entrance design.


Decorah, IA





Architect of Record:


Design Architect:




Structural Engineering Partner:

Fast + Epp