global architecture practice perkins + will has joined forces with structural engineering firm thornton tomasetti and the university of cambridge to develop plans for a timber skyscraper. the river beech tower, an ongoing concept running in parallel with a recently commissioned masterplan in chicago, explores the potential for a tall timber structure that could be realized by the time the aforementioned masterplan reaches its final phases. the project examines the architectural possibilities of engineered timber, and provides insight into the likely requirements and opportunities for the plant-based materials of tomorrow.

wooden skyscraper
all images courtesy of perkins + will

 

 

‘the river beech tower seeks to provide the understanding necessary to design and construct tall buildings using today’s new generation of engineered timber materials,’ says perkins + will, who is developing the project alongside thornton tomasetti and the university of cambridge. ‘structures designed with timber will be lighter weight, require less material, and have less environmental impact than their steel or concrete counterparts. trees entrain carbon as they grow, meaning even after the manufacturing process, engineered timber is inherently carbon neutral or better. in terms of overall carbon emissions, selecting a wood structure may be the single most impactful strategy the design team can make.’

wooden skyscraper
elevated ‘sky parks’ are visible in the building’s perimeter bracing

 

 

the project’s conceptual brief called for a residential development containing 300 duplex units arranged in twin single-loaded bars around a central atrium. ‘this format was chosen to study the opportunities for modularity and prefabrication, as well as to incorporate the basic building blocks for through-unit cross ventilation, and opportunities for vertically accessible community and amenity spaces,’ explains the design team. the program features varying degrees of communality, with functions conveyed through the façade. smaller private apartments are expressed by the exterior honeycomb, while elevated ‘sky parks’ are visible in the building’s perimeter bracing.

wooden skyscraper
private apartments are expressed in the exterior honeycomb

 

 

importantly, despite reaching greater heights than any current timber building, the design only uses existing, commercially available materials. the high-rise’s structural system maximizes timber’s natural axial strength with an exterior diagrid system, which efficiently distributes loads. furthermore, the use of internal cross bracing creates an interconnected system that allows the external diagrids to resist substantial lateral loads. the wood structure is also utilized as an integral component of the façade, meaning that traditional aluminum mullions are not required. meanwhile, a lightweight and high-performance ETFE system has been identified for the skin of the atrium façades.

wooden skyscraper
300 duplex units are arranged in twin single-loaded bars around a central atrium

wooden skyscraper
the ongoing concept is running in parallel with a recently commissioned masterplan in chicago

 

 

project info:

 

collaborators —
perkins+will (architecture)
thornton tomasetti (structural and façade engineering)
university of cambridge (materials engineering and research)

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  • A composite would do. Wood members with steel connections. Or maybe a combination of wood and steel. Just like the Scottish Parliament building.

    Tung Cab says:
  • This might be a silly question, but won’t there be an incredible fire hazard from using timber?

    Quackophony says:
  • I love it

    Bahram khamenei says:
  • Count me out. Seems like a terrible fire waiting to happen.

    Terry Border says:
  • the claim is that the timber chars on the outer layers, which stops any oxygen getting to the core of the section; and therefore the fire goes out.
    I’ve seen massive oak beams and columns survive warehouse fires, but not full timber structures.
    I wouldn’t live on an upper floor.
    Have they done full scale fire tests on these structures?

    mackenzie collins says:

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