Wooden Skyscrapers – Not Your “Three Little Pigs” House of Sticks

27 October 2020

Wooden Skyscrapers – Not Your “Three Little Pigs” House of Sticks

Wooden skyscrapers are capturing the imagination of architects around the world. Commonly referred to as mass timber building, or plyscrapers, they’re built using various laminated lumber products. But they’re no “houses of sticks.” These “sticks” are engineered structural timber produced by laminating several layers of lumber with high-strength adhesive, resulting in a composite that rivals the strength of steel.
And it’s surprisingly fire-resistant.  According to research done by the Canadian government, even if the surface of this product chars, the thick interior will stay intact, providing fire-resistance of about three hours. (Structural steel has a fire rating of four hours.)


One of the driving engines for wooden skyscrapers is sustainability. Unlike concrete and steel, that are responsible 11 percent of the world’s annual carbon emissions, wood reduces our carbon footprint.
CLT and similar products are made from the scraps of fast-growing trees, such as birch and aspen, that are then laminated together. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and release oxygen into the environment. And it retains the encapsulated carbon for the wood’s life.

Some Examples

While wooden skyscrapers are beginning to make their appearance in the U.S., Europe is more advanced. The home of the tallest timber building is in Norway. Mjøstårnet, completed in 2019 with 18 stories and has a height of 280 feet. In the United States, there here a few noteworthy projects:
  • Bullitt Center in Seattle, completed in 2012 with six stories and a height of 174 feet.
  • T3 in Minneapolis, completed in 2016 with seven stories and a height of 85 feet.
  • Carbon 12 in Portland, Oregon, completed in 2018 with eight stories and a height of 85 feet.

Chicago’s River Beech Tower – The Future?

Chicago, renowned for its grand architecture, is the proposed home of River Beech Tower. Once completed, it would stand at a towering 748 feet, more than 2.5 times the height of Norway’s Mjøstårnet. The project is part of an ongoing research project between Cambridge University, architects Perkins +Will, and engineers at Thornton Tomasetti.
This is quite ironic when you consider Chicago’s history and its Great Fire of 1871. It resulted in fire laws that required new building be constructed of fireproof materials such as marble, brick, and stone. Thus, this would be a stunning departure from the city’s current architecture, but one that may be the future of skyscraper construction.
Note: This article summarizes information from several sources including Ted Talks, ArchDaily and Wikipedia
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By NinaRundsveen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link