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Timber Skyscraper Would Soar 985 Feet

Friday, April 15, 2016

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Researchers have presented London’s mayor with conceptual plans for what would be the city’s first timber skyscraper, according to Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture.

The 80-story, 985-foot tall wooden building was designed by Cambridge researchers in partnership with PLP Architecture and engineers Smith and Wallwork, according to a press release issued April 8.

wood tower
Renderings: Cambridge University

Researchers at Cambridge University are designing a series of timber skyscrapers to investigate the design opportunities of using wood as a structural material.

The project is funded by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

A More Appealing High-Rise

Integrated within Central London’s Barbican, the 1 million-square-foot mixed-use tower and mid-rise terraces would include 1,000 new residential units.

“If London is going to survive it needs to increasingly densify,” says Dr. Michael Ramage, director of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation. “We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers.”

The proposals, says PLP’s Kevin Flanagan, “have been designed to improve our wellbeing in an urban context. Timber buildings have the potential architecturally to create a more pleasing, relaxed, sociable and creative urban experience.”

Potential Benefits of Tall Timber

After falling into disuse for decades, wood construction is gaining attention around the world. Currently under construction, the T3 project in Minneapolis will be the first modern American high-rise constructed entirely out of wood. In 2015, the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize awarded $3 million to demonstration projects in New York and Portland, OR.

The Cambridge team’s research takes tall timber to new heights, investigating the design opportunities of using wood as a structural material.

wood construction

Integrated within Central London’s Barbican, the 1 million-square-foot mixed-use tower and mid-rise terraces would include 1,000 new residential units.

By rethinking the aesthetics and structural methodologies of tall buildings, timber construction could have a broadly positive impact on urban environments and built form, according to the Cambridge press release.

Potential benefits include:

  • Use of renewable resources;
  • Reduced costs and improved construction timeframes;
  • Increased fire resistance; and
  • Significant reduction in the overall weight of buildings.

Lofty Goals

While the designs have been submitted to London’s mayor, the Barbican concept has a long way to go.

The world’s tallest timber building is currently the Treet, a 14-story apartment block in Bergen, Norway—far shorter than the proposed skyscraper.

“We’ve designed the architecture and engineering and demonstrated it will stand, but this is at a scale no one has attempted to build before,” says Ramage. “We are developing a new understanding of primary challenges in structure and construction. There is a lot of work ahead, but we are confident of meeting all the challenges before us.”


Tagged categories: Architecture; Color + Design; Commercial Construction; Design; Europe; Fireproofing; Wood; Wood coatings

Comment from Pamela Bosch, (4/15/2016, 3:08 PM)

Add hempcrete panels (like those used in the Marks & Spencer store) and the building can be carbon negative, breathable, etc. Hempcrete is about 8 times lighter than concrete. Engineered "lumber" could also be made of hemp which would mean a 120 day growing season for the structural members.

Comment from Jesse Melton, (4/19/2016, 12:29 PM)

Wasn't there a really big fire in London a while back that highlighted the flaws inherent in wooden, high density, urban architecture? Regardless, at some point someone needs to ask if this is something worth doing. Like my daddy used to say "Son, just because you can stack the LEGO bricks above the roofline of the house doesn't mea...". I'll never know how that sentence was supposed to end. By the time they got the pile of bricks off him it was too late.

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