North America’s Tallest Wood Building Gets Taller


For what is slated to become the tallest wood building in North America, the city of Milwaukee Plan Commission and the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee have unanimously approved changes to the project, making the structure even taller.

According to Rocky Marcoux, executive secretary of the Plan Commission, changes to the project were regarding a redesign for the anticipated parking area.

About the Project

Proposed in October 2018, the initial design of the high-grade timber-based mixed-use tower involved 21 stories and was predicted to be one of the tallest buildings in the world of its kind, according to its developer, New Land Enterprises LLP (Milwaukee).

Dubbed “Ascent,” the then-predicted 238-foot tower would feature laminated timber—columns and beams created by pressing layers of wood together—encompass 410,000 square feet and was designed by architectural firm Korb + Associates (Boston) and named Thornton Tomasetti as the project’s structural engineer.

“The modern use of mass timber’s modular construction offers a competitive and sustainable alternative to the typical structural materials used in high-rise buildings, such as concrete and steel,” said John Peronto, a Milwaukee-based Principal of Thornton Tomasetti, in a prepared statement.

“Recent technological developments in manufacturing of wood have also led to wood products that outperform conventional sawn lumber, which allows engineers today to expand the boundaries of what timber structures can be used for.”

Months later, at the end of January, the Milwaukee City Council’s City Plan Commission unanimously recommended that a requested rezoning at 700 East Kilbourn Avenue move forward, a first step forward in making the residential tower a reality.

According to The Architect’s Newspaper, the first five stories of the mixed-use development would feature cast-in-place concrete, with up to 8,100 square feet of ground-floor retail and four stories of enclosed parking above that. Moving farther up the tower, the remaining 16 stories were slated to contain 205 rental units and would be built from mass timber fastened with steel connectors.

Partner and project architect Jason Korb reported at the time that because the project planned to use the prefabricated timber, the 16 residential stories could be installed in only four months. Additionally, the mass timber’s structural elements were stated to be fire resistant, in the sense that in the event of a fire, they would only char and not burn through.

“The entire wood structure, and this would never happen, could burn down and the cores would be left standing,” said Korb.

In March, the rezoning for the residential tower was unanimously approved by council and, in May, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service division awarded the project with an undisclosed grant. In total, the division awarded 41 grants totaling $8.9 million, suggesting that an average size grant would total roughly $217,000.

Urban Milwaukee reported that the received grants would be used for support engineering work and was already engaging with Catalyst Construction (Milwaukee) on pre-construction plans.

By August, another proposal was sought by city zoning approval to add two floors to the Ascent tower, bringing the structure’s total height to 23 stories. A groundbreaking for the project was slated to take place in spring 2020 and suggested a completion date as early as 2021.

What’s Happening Now

In the most recent reports about the Ascent mixed-used development, city councils have unanimously approved New Land Enterprises’ plan to increase the tower’s height by two stories, adjusting the height by only 9 feet, totaling 250 feet.

Through a cost-saving decision, the math of the project’s height is explained through the adjustment of the project’s parking garage. In the revised garage design, the project alters from the use of large concrete beams to more columns. The design change took 2 feet per floor from the garage, dropping the height of the building 10 feet.

In approving the increased height for the high-rise, the unit count for the apartments has increased from 206 to 231 apartments and a half floor of parking was added, increasing available parking spaces by 50, bringing the total to 310.

It is reported that the 8,100 square feet of ground-floor commercial space was not affected by the approved changes.

Although the final revised building design will have to go before the full Common Council, a groundbreaking is anticipated for April 2020.

Other Timber Towers

In an unannounced competition to create the world’s tallest wooden skyscrapers, Sumitomo Forestry reportedly partnered with architectural designers Nikken Sekkei in 2018 and proposed a Tokyo-based 350-meter-tall (1,148-foot-tall) structure. Once finished in 2041, reports claim the building would be the tallest wooden high-rise in the world.

However, revealed this past March, Mjøstårnet by Voll Arkitekter in Brumunddal, Norway, officially took the title of world’s tallest timber building upon its completion. The 85.4-meter-high tower was built using cross-laminated timber and succeeded the 53-meter-high Brock Commons Tallwood House in Vancouver (which is a hybrid wood and concrete structure) and the 49-meter-tall Treet building in Bergen, Norway (which is another all-timber building).

In June, Delta Land Development and Peter Busby at architectural firm Perkins+Will outlined plans for a mixed-used high-rise dubbed “Canada Earth Tower,” slated to be built in Vancouver. If approved, the building would stand 30-40 stories, at approximately 120 meters and be dubbed the world’s tallest hybrid timber building.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Asia Pacific; Building operations; Color + Design; Color + Design; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Design; Design - Commercial; Design build; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; North America; Renewable raw materials; Upcoming projects; Wood; Z-Continents

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