Timber Tower Begins Construction in WI
Construction has begun in Milwaukee on one of the world’s tallest timber buildings, according to officials. The 25-story residential building dubbed “Ascent” has secured building permits, and crews have reportedly broken ground on the site.
Upon completion the tower will stand 284 feet tall and house 259 apartment units, along with retail, parking, a swimming pool and fitness center.
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).
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), with Thornton Tomasetti as the project’s structural engineer.
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.
In March 2019, 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.
However, in September, the Milwaukee Plan Commission and the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee 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.
“The issuance of building permits for Ascent represents a major milestone,” Jason Korb, principal of Korb + Associates, said in a statement. “This has been an incredible 2-year journey, working in continuous partnership with the city of Milwaukee, to create something rather extraordinary—a world class residential project that is also a major carbon sink.”
In addition to the architecture and development teams, Fond du Lac-based C.D. Smith Construction Inc. and Milwaukee-based Catalyst Construction are leading construction work, while Swinerton Mass Timber, of Portland, is in charge of the mass timber material.
Completion of the tower is slated for the summer of 2022.