Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Tallest Wood Building in Western Hemisphere

New Land unveils ambitious plan to build 21-story wood apartment building.

By - Oct 6th, 2018 04:59 pm
Ascent, 21-story mass timber apartment building. Rendering by Korb + Associates.

Ascent, 21-story mass timber apartment building. Rendering by Korb + Associates.

New Land Enterprises has announced a bold plan to build a 21-story mass timber apartment building in East Town. If completed, the building, known as Ascent, would be the tallest timber structure in the Western Hemisphere according to the company.

The news comes just months after New Land released plans to build a seven-story mass timber office building, the city’s first, along the Milwaukee River in Westown.

Mass timber is an engineered product made by combining layers of lumber into a stronger material. The material is capable of building much taller buildings than conventional wood construction methods because it only chars (rather than burning up) in a fire and offers enhanced strength.

The engineered material offers substantial environmental benefits over steel or concrete. Because of its reduced weight, it also can reduce the size of a building’s foundation allowing faster construction. Construction speed is further enhanced with the use of prefabricated components. Building codes have been recently updated to allow for the new material to be used in the United States and a number of projects have been built in the Pacific Northwest.

Planned to rise 238 feet, the tower is being designed by New Land partner Korb + Associates Architects and engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti. The team will present the project at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat annual conference in Dubai on October 20th.

The tower is planned for a long-vacant site at the northeast corner of N. Van Buren St. and E. Kilbourn Ave. The site at 700 E. Kilbourn Ave. is currently a parking lot and a vacant commercial building. City records indicate a New Land-affiliate has owned the 28,504-square-foot lot since 2011.

The 410,000-square-foot building would contain 201 apartments. The units would be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans. “While we continue to see a demand for one bedroom apartments, we also see a significant undersupply of larger floor plans that can accommodate empty nesters, professionals and families,” said New Land director Tim Gokhman.

A pool is planned for the sixth floor with operable windows. A sauna, steam room and entertainment center are also planned for what the firm is calling a “wellness floor.” The top floor would be a resident amenity level with two outdoor decks, fire pits, grilling stations, a club house, kitchen and co-working space.

“Mass timber is an amazing building tool. Its carbon sequestration and renewability properties are coupled with the stunning aesthetics of natural wood beams. It’s a true marriage of form and function,” said the developer. The design of the apartments would expose the mass timber wherever possible. “One of the benefits of mass timber construction is that the structure doesn’t need to be covered,” said Gokhman.

Gokhman hopes to break ground on the project in 2019.


Past Plans

It’s not the first time New Land has sought to build a tower on the site. The firm had plans for a 19-story tower known as Bookends North on the site in 2009. That project eventually died when the firm was unable to secure financing.

In 2014, Chicago-based developer Carroll Properties unveiled plans for a 35-story apartment tower on the site. That project received a zoning variance from the city, but never was built.

Timber Towers

The tallest completed timber tower is Brock Commons, an 18-story, 174-foot-tall student housing complex at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. But Canada won’t hold the distinction for long.

In the coming months, the Mjos Tower will open in Norway. The 280-foot-tower contains a mix of housing, office space and a hotel. A 276-foot tower is nearing completion in Vienna, Austria as well.

A number of other big timber towers are proposed across the globe. An 80-story, 748-foot-tall tower is proposed for Chicago. A 300-foot tower is proposed for Portland. But the biggest proposal is a 1,148-foot-tall tower planned for Tokyo, Japan.

Mass Timber Office Building Renderings

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