Jeramey Jannene

City Again Has World’s Tallest Building

Once it was Milwaukee's City Hall. Now it's Ascent, proclaimed tallest timber building by international Council on Tall Buildings.

By - Aug 1st, 2022 04:55 pm
Ascent nears completion in July 2022. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Ascent nears completion in July 2022. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee can once again claim to be home to something that is the world’s tallest.

Representatives of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) joined New Land Enterprises to officially proclaim the 25-story, 284-foot Ascent apartment tower as “the world’s tallest timber-concrete hybrid building.” It’s also the tallest mass timber building of any kind.

The top 19 floors of the $128.2 million building, 700 E. Kilbourn Ave., are framed from mass timber, an engineered product made by combining layers of lumber into a stronger material. That structure sits atop a six-story, concrete parking structure.

“Ascent is the world’s tallest timber-hybrid building. It is a timber-concrete hybrid building. I won’t get too deep into the nuances, but there are a couple of subclassifications of tall timber buildings that we feature,” said Daniel Safarik, director of research and thought leadership for CTBUH, at a July 20 press conference. “At the moment it’s the tallest tall building made of timber of any kind.”

CTBUH presented New Land and the Ascent project team with a signboard to mark the designation.

“This is a really significant event because I can’t thank of the last time that Milwaukee had the tallest anything. Maybe the tallest statue of the Fonz,” said Safarik.

But Safarik was forgetting something, as Alderman Robert Bauman and New Land co-founder Boris Gokhman were quick to shout out: Milwaukee City Hall.

At 354 feet (393 feet at the flagpole), it was the tallest inhabited building in the world from its completion in 1895 until 1899. The uninhabited Washington Monument (1884), the unfinished Philadelphia City Hall (1901) and the uninhabited Eiffel Tower (1889) were always taller, but Milwaukee held the world’s tallest crown until being replaced by Hamburg, Germany’s City Hall (367 feet) and, in the U.S., the Park Row Building in New York City (390 feet).

Tim Gokhman (with sunglasses) is presented a sign proclaiming Ascent the world's tallest timber-concrete hybrid buiding by Daniel Saferik of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Tim Gokhman (with sunglasses) is presented a sign proclaiming Ascent the world’s tallest timber-concrete hybrid buiding by Daniel Safarik of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

“I hope you guys get a little more mileage out of it than that,” said Safarik. But it looks like Milwaukee won’t.

Ascent architect Jason Korb of Korb + Associates Architects is already working on a 29-story mass timber building in St. Louis that would be approximately 30 feet taller. Safarik said there are 84 mass timber buildings that are either under construction or completed that are seven or more stories tall.

“This is at the tip top of them all, by just a few fractions of a meter, a few feet, but it counts for us,” said Safarik.

Ascent Didn’t Always Have World Record Ambitions

“We really didn’t set out to set a world record,” said New Land managing director Tim Gokhman. “When we started [in 2018], it was at 19 stories, and then it ended up going to 21, and then it ended up going to 23. And then it ended going to 25. And really the function of that was economics, we weren’t chasing a world record.”

Working with Korb, project contractors CD Smith and Catalyst Construction, structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti and mass timber specialist Timberlab, New Land refined the design to balance the parking-to-unit ratio while finalizing what HVAC systems would be used.

“Although I do have to say that when we got to 25 and we saw how close we were, there may have been some increase in height on the ground floor and on the top to get to that record,” said Gokhman.

It eclipsed the 280-foot-tall Mjosa Tower, an all-mass-timber, mixed-use building located in Brumunddal, Norway. The lakeside tourist town has a population of approximately 11,000 and, now, the second tallest mass timber in the world. The building was completed in 2019.

Gokhman credits an invitation to reveal the first version of the building at a 2018 CTBUH mass timber conference in Dubai as a fortuitous event that helped find additional project partners and push the building taller.

The developer has been clear that he doesn’t expect Ascent to hold the record for long. In fact, his firm is pursuing developing luxury mass timber apartment buildings in other cities. As Korb’s contract in St. Louis shows, Ascent has launched the project team onto the national stage.

And while Milwaukee can take pride in being home to the world’s tallest mass timber hybrid, it’s far from a super tall structure. It wouldn’t appear on a list of the 100 tallest buildings in New York City. One World Trade Center, at 1,776 feet tall, is more than six times its height. But of course built with steel.

For an extensive look at the building, its apartments and its long list of amenities, see our July coverage. The final components of Ascent are to be completed this month.


Mass Timber Construction

Interior Renderings

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