Commercial, Mass Timber, Multi-Family

Ascent

Eyes on Ascent: The World’s Tallest Timber Tower

At the end of the 19th-century, Louis Sullivan claimed that an entire generation of architects was “brought face to face with something new under the sun”—the soaring steel highrise. A century later, another turning point in architecture is revolutionizing America’s built environment: the timber tower.

Strong and innovative engineered wood products have enabled timber construction to reach record-setting heights25 stories to be exactwith Milwaukee’s Ascent. The 493,000-square-foot, mixed-use residential tower eclipses INTRO, the current nine-story U.S. record holder for tall mass timber construction, and with it ushers in 21st-century possibilities for low-carbon, high-density living.

Tall Timber a Differentiator for Multifamily Developer

Tim Gokhman, managing director at New Land Enterprises, the developer for the project, says that the initial motivation for Ascent was to give Milwaukee a residential tower that stood out and appealed to prospective tenants who are drawn to the natural beauty of timber construction.

Photo credit: New Land Enterprises | LCP 360
Tim Gokhman
Managing Director, New Land Enterprises
Ascent
At first, the primary driver for us was aesthetics. We were looking for a differentiator.

“In 2017, I saw the renderings for River Beech Tower—a conceptual tall timber design by Perkins&Will—and it was a revelation that not only was it possible to build a highrise with wood, you could also expose that structure inside, making the visual experience for the occupant incomparable,” said Gokhman.

To achieve that vision, the project team set out to expose the mass timber structure of the multifamily high-rise—constructed from cross-laminated timber (CLT) slabs and glulam columns/beams—wherever possible in the 259-unit residential development. In addition to Ascent’s residential units, the building also includes ground-floor retail, a seventh-floor wellness and fitness center, a 45’ pool with retractable glazing to bring the feeling of the outdoors inside, and a 25th-floor 360-degree rooftop community space with panoramic views of Milwaukee and Lake Michigan.

Photo credit: New Land Enterprises | LCP 360
Two years ago I didn’t know the word biophilia and now it’s a core tenet of design. The fact that tenants at Ascent will be able to exercise or run on a treadmill surrounded by mass timber is so exciting. There‘s this serenity that you get in that space that is unmatchable.
Tim Gokhman
Managing Director
New Land Enterprises

Lofty Ambitions

To reach 25 stories and expose 50 percent of the mass timber structure, the project team needed to demonstrate to the City of Milwaukee that Ascent could meet the rigorous fire safety standards of a Type I building.

“Working in collaboration with the USDA Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) the team conducted the world’s first three-hour glulam fire test. In the end, the three beams tested by the FPL met or exceeded the three-hour fire rating for a structural frame,” said Jason Korb, AIA, principal at Korb + Associates Architects, the firm leading the project’s design.

According to the design team, Ascent’s structural system of computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine-cut glulam beams/columns, CLT floors, and meticulously-planned prefabrication methods not only made for safe, precise construction, but also faster erection when compared to conventional steel and concrete buildings.

Building information modeling (BIM) also played a big role in the project’s onsite coordination, troubleshooting, and speedy construction. Each mass timber member was itemized using a unique numeric code that ties into the BIM software and corresponds to the shop drawings, helping to fast track just-in-time delivery and assembly.

Photo credit: New Land Enterprises | LCP 360

“We estimate that mass timber construction projects like Ascent require 90 percent less construction traffic, 75 percent fewer workers on-site, and are 25 percent faster than traditional construction projects. All of these reductions factor into reduced emissions associated with the construction process,” said Gokhman.

Once the construction crews found their rhythm, each floor was completed in five to six days, significantly less time than the eight days the design team indicated is typically required to complete a floor in conventional concrete and steel buildings of equal size. The project’s carbon benefit is equal to removing 2,350 cars from the road for one year.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Gokhman credits the synergy of his winning tall wood team for the speed and success of the project. 

Streamlining Ascent’s planning and vaulting beyond the building code’s prescribed maximum height for timber construction required careful upfront planning from a tight-knit project team that included Korb + Associates Architects,  structural engineer Thornton Tomasetti, wood fabricator Timberlab, fire protection specialists at ARUP, and general contractor C.D. Smith Construction with support from Catalyst Construction.

Photo credit: C.D. Smith

“With the right team in place, the question isn’t ‘can you build a 25-story timber building?’ We know it can be done. The real question becomes ‘how do you get it done, and how do you get it approved?’,” said Jordan Komp, lead structural engineer on the project and Thornton Tomasetti’s vice president and Milwaukee office director.

“I can honestly say that it was a thrill to work on this project because when you have a team committed to mass timber from the start and when you have strong collaboration—as we did—with the general contractor, architect, and owner, it makes things so much easier,” he adds.

The project’s spirited teamwork also included close collaboration with the Milwaukee City Council’s City Plan Commission, which unanimously approved the project’s rezoning, and the Milwaukee Fire Department, which observed the project’s fire testing firsthand. 

More Towers on the Horizon

Even before its completion, Ascent is clearing the way for more tall wood and mass timber construction, The project’s success has prompted Wisconsin officials to update the statewide building code and establish a new set of guidelines to encourage more developers to use manufactured mass timber instead of steel or concrete structures.

New Land Enterprises also sees more buildings like Ascent on their horizon. “The great thing with mass timber construction is that we’re doing something right for the environment while at the same time erecting a beautiful building with exposed wood and biophilic benefits,” says Gokhman. 

“Mass timber checks all the boxes. It is fast, efficient, and more precise and sustainable than conventional concrete and steel construction, and we definitely see ourselves becoming a developer with mass timber expertise. I do see this as the future of construction,” he adds.

Photo credit: Korb & Associates

“Going even taller is the next frontier for mass timber,” said Korb, “and we know it is possible to go even higher than Ascent—as high as 80 stories or more. The engineering analysis is proving this. So as we move beyond demonstration projects and the economics pencil out, I think we will see the height of timber buildings continue to rise.”

webinar

Take a Look Behind the Scenes

What motivated the development team at New Land Enterprises to create the world’s tallest timber tower? What hurdles did the architecture, fire, and engineering teams face when getting approvals for this monumental building? Get those answers and more in this Q&A and virtual tour from WoodWorks

Photo credit: C.D. Smith

Learn more about Ascent in this Q+A with managing director Tim Gokhman..

Project Details

  • Project Name:
    Ascent
  • Location:
    Milwaukee, WI
  • Type:
    Multifamily Residential with Groundfloor Retail
  • Architect:
    Korb + Associates Architects
  • Developer:
    New Land Enterprises & Wiechmann Enterprises
  • Structural Engineer/Mass Timber Program:
    Thornton Tomasetti
  • Contractors:
    C.D. Smith Construction lead builder with Catalyst Construction
  • Timber Products:
    CLT, Glulam
  • Size:
    493,000 ft²
  • Floors:
    25
  • Height:
    284 ft
  • Units:
    259
  • Completion:
    2022
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