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Hi Ho Timber! Emerging Construction Options

By Tim Geoghegan, Director

House construction tools on wooden table with free space for text.

A wooden skyscraper in Chicago? Did someone forget 1871 and the Great Fire?

A 10-story timber structure near New York City’s High Line?

Architects at Perkins + Will have proposed an imaginative 80-story structure for the Riverline development project in Chicago. Also turning more than a few heads is SHoP Architects’ proposed 10-story condominium in Chelsea.

The modern built environment has been cast in steel and glass, but new materials may soon be coming to an office building or industrial plant near you. This isn’t “what’s old is new again” – the timber in question is typically a manufactured laminate. In fact, Hines Interests has erected a 220,000 square foot “mass timber” structure in Minneapolis and is reportedly mulling plans for others in Chicago and Atlanta.

The use of steel in building construction escalated after Chicago’s Great Fire and the San Francisco earthquake. Stand near the Water Tower in Chicago or look at photographs from 1906 of the still-unfinished Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill and you’ll get it.

Steel allowed for taller structures than cast iron and offered greater fire resistance than previous methods. Couple this advent with the electric elevator, invented in the 1880s, and the modern skyline began to take shape.

But is it time to take another look at the materials, techniques, and technologies that will be utilized in building tomorrow’s smart workplace? What is driving change, and how will these changes inform our design, construction, and renovation decisions?

A combination of cost and timing considerations – influenced by the long-term upside of “green” – has led to far greater acceptance of alternatives than as recently as 20 years ago. In addition, the ability to view the built environment as an “asset” rather than a “liability” allows for creative and forward-thinking firms to select options once considered impracticable outside of pilot programs.

And this trend is global: Norway holds the current title for tallest timber building in the world, but Canada plans to unveil the new victor in mid-2017.

Developers, investors, and occupants have always questioned location, costs, and value – perhaps it’s time to elevate materials to that highest level of their consideration set. Cushman & Wakefield has both the long-term view and a unique perspective informed by client needs to help sort this out. We call it Ideas Into Action.

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