Milwaukee: Prepare to enter the record books.
ascentthe second of two massive wooden structures in the city, it will open its doors to residents on July 15, 2022.
But unlike Milwaukee’s first massive wood construction, Wooden lofts in Walker’s Point, this $80 million building will be 25 stories high — 284 feet — making it the tallest solid timber building in the world. Mjösa Tower from the first place.
Located at 700 Kilbourn Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, the 259-unit building offers one-bedroom (starting at $1,715 per month), two-bedroom (up to $4,450 per month), and three-bedroom apartments (up to $7,860 per month).
Compared to typical high-rise buildings — those built using concrete and steel — structures like Ascent use treated wood that comes directly from trees.
And like the forests they came from, massive wooden buildings remove activated carbon (CO2) from the atmosphere, trapping it in the structure as long as the building is standing.
Furthermore, massive wooden buildings are not only healthier for the planet; they are also healthier for their inhabitants. studies suggest that simply being in a room with exposed wood reduces stress — an effect that appeals to our “biophilia,” or innate desire to be surrounded by nature.
Milwaukee Enters into Global Dialogue
Alex Timmer, assistant professor in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said a solid timber building like Ascent puts Milwaukee in an unexpected spotlight.
“The conversations that are happening around wood right now are happening worldwide,” explains Timmer. The most notable massive timber structures are in Europe, so it is unusual for a building of this type to be built in Milwaukee.
Ascent will serve as a test for future technological advancements in architecture. Instead of asking, “How does a building like this come about in Europe?” Timmer says we can ask ourselves, “How does such a building happen here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin…and worldwide?”
Judging how Ascent performs in our city may open the door for more conversations about mass timber as an entire industry – rather than as a one-off example in one city, one state.
Construction is consumption
Timmer and a team of employees of Riviera† WoodWorks and the Forest Products Laboratory are currently working on collecting lifecycle data for Ascent, an effort measuring the building’s overall environmental impact.
Timmer explained that they are analyzing Ascent’s “embodied carbon” and “embodied energy” — measurements of how much energy is needed to make the building and how much carbon is produced during construction.
“Architecture is almost pure consumption — it consumes energy,” which in turn releases carbon, he said.
This is important to take into account when constructing a new building.
Experts estimate that demand for new housing will double by 2060, requiring 2.4 trillion square feet of new housing — the equivalent of adding all of New York City to the world every month over the next 40 years, according to the Global ABC Status Report 2021†
The same report states that the construction sector is responsible for 47% of global CO2 emissions each year. And about 22% of global CO2 emissions come from construction’s two biggest culprits: concrete and steel.
“Embodied carbon is the most important thing for us as architects to address because it has the most direct impact,” he said. We can change the way we build new buildings, turning the industry into an industry of reuse† reduction and sequestration†
This starts with mass timber.
Mass wood is a “no-brainer”
Mass timber structures directly address carbon as significantly less construction is required on site. For Ascent, the construction process required an estimated 90% fewer vehicles and 75% fewer workers to complete the work, which the building’s website says was completed in a quarter of the time.
Massive wooden buildings not only reduce carbon, they also directly extract CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in the structure for decades.
According to CD Smith Construction Co. the company has signed a contract to build Ascent: “An 18-storey solid wood building has a negative carbon footprint equivalent to taking 2,350 cars off the road per year.”
“Solid lumber is definitely one of the really, really important tools that architects have right now,” Timmer said. “It’s a good idea.”
Consciously and sustainably purchase wood
Significantly less steel and concrete is used in solid wood constructions, making it more “green” than typical high-rise buildings.
That is not to say that these materials are completely absent. Steel and concrete are still needed for the foundation, parking garage, swimming pool, stairwells and elevator shafts of Ascent.
This is part of the tradeoffs that exist when designing a structure. As Timmer explained, a building is rarely made with one material; functionality should be a factor.
“You’re not going to build a pool out of solid wood, are you?” he said. “The interesting thing about (addressing) embodied carbon is that you can make an informed choice about which material to use.”
Timmer explained that it is important to look for Forest Stewardship Council standards before purchasing any wood product. This group has standardized statistics that determine whether a material has been harvested sustainably.
“As good as bulk wood is at capturing carbon, destroying a nursery to produce it prevents it from becoming a sustainable product,” he said. “As long as those trees are sustainably forested and harvested sustainably, we have the potential to have a renewable resource and we can capture more and more embodied carbon.”
Ascent Redefines Building Regulations
While massive wood represents a future for sustainable architecture, building codes have not caught up with technological advances.
Timmer explained that current U.S. building codes dictate safety standards that a building must meet. These mandates originally prevented Ascent’s height-to-wood ratio due to fire safety concerns.
Ascent was exempted from this code by doing something else: performative measures, instead of prescriptive the ones.
Developers showed that when wood burns en masse, it only burns on the outside, creating a ‘charred zone’. This charred zone protects everything in it, leaving the structure intact. “It’s completely safe,” he said.
Following the example of Ascent, Timmer predicts that we will see building codes evolve and become more sophisticated.
“We’re going to get better at building buildings and we’re going to understand them better,” he said. “This means we can demand more from this particular building typology, and we can demand more from it from an environmental point of view.”
Building a structure like Ascent is part of an experiment that comes with building a building, Timmer said. “You learn a tremendous amount through the process of building. As much as we do a tremendous amount of testing in labs on these materials, it’s the actual construction, the actual building that you learn.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee’s massive timber construction tops Norway as the world’s largest