Perkins+Will’s proposed wooden skyscraper is exploring timber’s potential

With proposals for timber skyscrapers becoming more prevalent around the world, Perkins + Will join forces with Thornton Tomasetti and the University of Cambridge to develop plans for The River Beech Tower, Chicago.

The global architecture practice Perkins+Will has teamed up with structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti and the University of Cambridge to develop plans for a timber skyscraper, known as The River Beech Tower. An academic and professional collaboration, The River Beech Tower runs in parallel with the design of a recently commissioned masterplan along the Chicago River and explores the potential for tall timber structures. The project even has the possibility of being realised by the time the masterplan’s final phases are being implemented.

Since its fruition, the concept has expanded into an on-going study which focuses on examining the architectural possibilities that are afforded by engineered timber. The project presents an insight into the probable requirements and opportunities that may come from using plant-based materials for such large structures.

Renderings courtesy of Perkins+Will

“The building industry is experiencing an increase in the use of mass timber products for tall buildings,” write the collaborative authors of the River Beech Tower: A Tall Timber Experiment journal paper. The study goes on to discuss the benefits of timber, including the fact that it is lighter, more easily transportable and has a smaller environmental impact than its concrete or steel counterparts. The journal paper also deliberates on how to get around the issue of fire safety – the first thought that springs to mind is “doesn’t wood burn?” – but the collaborators deliver potential measures such as treating the wood to make sure it chars, or encapsulating the timber in fire-resistant material.

Renderings courtesy of Perkins+Will

The River Beech Tower’s conceptual design “interconnects two separate towers… on each side of a multi-story atrium” to increase the building’s stability. The 80-storey skyscraper would be home to offices and communal spaces behind its elaborate exterior, as well as featuring elevated ‘sky parks’. Reaching a greater height than any currently existing timber building, if the River Beech Tower project was executed, it would certainly influence current building practices.

Though a conceptual research project above all, this magnificent design from three significant collaborators certainly poses an exciting question for the future of timber structures – long live the wooden revolution.

Renderings courtesy of Perkins+Will

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