Climate-conscious construction takes to new heights

REVOLVE’s Forests in Cities VIEWS cover story premiered in Spring 2018 with a look to low-carbon wood structures and integrating greenery in urban architectural design. Half a decade later, we are taking stock of the world’s tallest mass timber concepts and constructs.

Europe has the most high-rise timber buildings making up around 71% of the total, followed by North America at 18%. As of February 2023, the tallest concrete-timber hybrid is Ascent MKE in Milwaukee, USA – a 25-story (86.6-meter) luxury apartment high-rise, while the 18-story mixed-use building Mjøstårnet in Norway is the tallest all-timber building to date at 85.4 meters.

Growing trends to use low-carbon construction materials such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glued laminated timber (glulam) are popular with developers and clients for its aesthetic appeal; however, the devastating earthquakes in Turkey in early 2023 are a stark reminder of the benefits that timber constructions can have in building more climate-resilient cities. The strength and natural elasticity of wood, in combination with good seismic design can be a changemaker for earthquake prone areas that can even exceed the seismic performance of comparable steel and concrete structures.

With the CLT market projected to reach 3.2 million USD by 2030, more than triple what it was in 2021, the future is betting on wood for more climate-conscious, modern constructions – but just how high does the world’s timber tower ambitions go?

Milwaukee, WI, USA – Ascent is a luxurious apartment high rise at an impressive 25-stories (86.6 m) on the Milwaukee skyline. It took the title for the world’s tallest mass timber structure when it finished construction in August 2022. The project received a US Department of Agriculture grant awarded through the Forest Service’s Wood Innovations Grant program that supported the testing of mass timber to match the performance of concrete and steel to meet US building codes. Photos: (left and above) Nate Vomhof (below) New Land Enterprises.

Brumunddal, Norway – At 18 stories, 85.4 meters high, Mjøstårnet is the world’s tallest all-wood construction completed in 2019. It is now Norway’s third tallest building with that serves as a residence and hotel. The design concept of Mjøstårnet was inspired by the Paris Agreement and aimed to sustainably source construction materials locally.

Vienna, Austria – At 84-meters, 24-story high wood-concrete hybrid structure HoHo Wien houses a hotel, apartments, restaurant and wellness center and offices and relies on renewables high efficiency helps the building to save 2,800 tons of carbon emissions compared to conventional structures of a similar size. Photos: (left) Robert Fritz / DERFRITZ (above and below) Sima Prodinger

Skellefteå, Sweden – At 75-meter high, Sara Kulturhus Centre in Skellefteå created a new space for arts, performance, and literature in the Sweden’s tallest timber building to date. Crafted from timber harvested around Skellefteå, it is equipped with solar panels, batteries, and a heat pump in efforts to maintain a carbon neutral energy system. Photos: (above and below) Johan Wennerstrom

Amsterdam, The Netherlands – At a height of 73 meters, the 21-story HAUT Amsterdam is the Netherlands’ tallest hybrid wooden building, and equally one of the tallest in the world. Through a bio-based structure of 2,000 cubic meters of timber, the building can sequester and store around 1,800 tonnes of CO2. Photos: Jannes Linders

Victoria, Australia – At a height of 69.7 meters, 55 Southbank Boulevard is the first cross-laminated timber (CLT) high-rise hotel in Australia. Leading the way in sustainable design, approximately 5,300 tons of CLT were used to add 10 levels to an existing commercial building, offsetting nearly 4,200 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. Photos: Bates Smart / Peter Clarke

Vancouver, BC, Canada – Brock Commons Tallwood House is a 53-meter high residence hall at the University of British Columbia constructed from mass timber elements that were fabricated from the province. Brock Commons is home to over 400 students and provides study and amenity spaces. Photos: (left and above) Steven Errico / Brudder Productions (below) Michael Elkan.

Toronto, ON, Canada – Under construction, at 52.5 meters and with expected completion in 2024, the Limberlost Place at George Brown College is constructed with ‘Made in Canada’ mass timber. This net-zero carbon emissions project will be able to run passively 50% of the year.

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