America’s Tallest Timber Build to Use 100,000 ft³ of Lumber?

The Edison, if approved, will feature a 32-story building of cross-laminated and glue-laminated timber hybrid system over a post-tensioned concrete base.

Mon 18 Mar 24


The fate of one of the world’s tallest mass timber buildings now rests with the Milwaukee Plan Commission, which will next week review updated plans and river-facing elevations for the Edison – a 32-storey mass timber high rise that developers, Neutral Project, hope to break ground on in September,

Neutral Project filed the proposal last year with the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The Board approved it in early March before being deferred to the Milwaukee Plan Commission for final approval on March 25.

Last week, Chicago-based Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, responsible for the design, submitted plans to the city with renderings and details about the design and sustainability features.

According to plans, The Edison will be built where a historic timber yard once was.

“We, along with the Neutral Project, are looking to make this ambitious project the proof of concept for mass timber construction in the US,” the firm wrote, adding that the use of mass timber parts will reduce embodied carbon emissions by up to 70% compared to traditional materials.

“Its location along the Milwaukee River and River Walk will showcase what responsible design and development can look like, benefiting the city’s future, revitalising the Riverwalk, the neighbourhood, and its residents.”

It will feature post-tensioned concrete on levels one through eight, with levels eight to 32 featuring cross-laminated panels and glue-laminated timber beams – supplied by Stora Enso and Austrian manufacturer KLM in a mass-timber hybrid construction system.

Rendering courtesy of Hartshorne Plunkard Architects

Mass timber is part of the developer’s mission to construct carbon-neutral buildings.

According to Daniel Glaessi, a partner at the firm, “At completion, the building will be one of the tallest mass timber hybrid structures in the world, utilising nearly 100,000 cubic feet of lumber.”

Wood Central understands that Edison will set a new, ultra-high standard in green housing, including Passive House  (following PHIUS CORE 2021) principles, a high-performance building standard administered by Phius (Passive House Institute of the U.S.).

Passive House is an ultra-energy-efficient building design that optimizes insulation, ventilation, and airtight construction to drastically reduce heating and cooling energy consumption, which results in up to 80% less energy usage compared to standard buildings. 

In recent months, mass timber construction systems have been widely embraced as a preferred construction system for residential projects – thanks to being lightweight, more sustainable and faster to construct than traditional steel and concrete systems.

If approved, the new building is expected to finish to be finalised in mid-2027 after a 30-month construction period.

Developed by The Neutral Project, it works with Fond du Lac-based C.D. Smith Construction and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture.

“We want to break ground in the second quarter of 2024 after securing funding in the first quarter.”

“Being a mass timber project, The Edison has an edge with private investors and banks setting guidelines for sustainable projects,” Mr Glaessi said.

He claims the building will also fill the city’s housing market void.

“[Milwaukee] is a very innovation-friendly city, and the market conditions are very good,” Mr Glaessi said.

“In other parts of the country, it’s hard to develop without speaking of sustainable development.”

The project coincides with two other major construction projects in Milwaukee — The Couture on the city’s lakefront and 333 N. Water in the Third Ward.

Developers also confirmed they responded to the city’s request for proposals to replace the garage next to the Marcus Center of Performing Arts, 1001 N. Water St., with initial plans calling for a 50-story building. The city of Milwaukee Department of City Development declined to comment as the RFP process is still underway.

Two separate proposals have been made for the site since the early 2000s, including Irgens’ proposal for Ovation Plaza in 2003, but those plans never moved forward.


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