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Mass-timber tower, already to be one of world’s highest, to get a little taller

(Rendering courtesy of Korb + Associates)

(Rendering courtesy of Korb + Associates)

The planned Ascent tower in Milwaukee — which has long been on course to be one of the tallest buildings built with a timber frame — would get a little taller under a proposal before city officials.

The project developer, New Land Enterprises, wants to add more units and floors, pushing the height of the structure up from 21 to 23 floors.

Rather than steel or concrete, planners want to rely on so-called mass-timber framing for the upper floors of the Ascent tower. Mass timber is a relatively new building technique that proponents say is better for the environment than standard construction methods.

The proposal to add to the Ascent tower’s height won of the approval of Milwaukee’s Plan Commission on Sept. 9 and is now scheduled to go before the city’s Zoning Neighborhoods & Development Committee on Tuesday. City officials had initially approved the project last winter.

Jason Korb, of Korb + Associates Architects, told the city’s Plan Commission last week that the project developer was proposing changes mainly to add insulation to the building’s parking structure, which would support the mass-timber stories above and be made of concrete.

Beyond adding floors, the proposed design changes would give the tower 9 more feet of height and increase its unit count from 205 to 231. Developers also tweaked the plans to call for the construction of more one-bedroom units with views of the lake. The modified designs show a “50-50” mix of one- and two-bedroom units, Korb said.

Korb said the developers hope to break ground on the building in April. Because a wood-framed building will be unusual, Korb said he expects city officials to take several months before clearing the project for construction.

The Ascent tower promises to place Milwaukee at the forefront of a development trend hitherto seen mostly on the coasts of the U.S. and overseas. The Milwaukee project, in fact, would rival the world’s tallest mass timber building, a 24-story tower in Vienna, Austria.

Proponents of mass timber say it can help curtail carbon emissions since the pressed-wooden boards that make up mass-timber beams can be obtained from replenishable forests. Mass timber is also lighter than steel or concrete framing, reducing the need for concrete in buildings’ foundations.

Milwaukee isn’t alone in courting the new building method. The so-called T3 building in Minneapolis is among the tallest mass timber buildings in the country. And in Madison, city officials and a developer briefly considered building a mixed-use tower atop the city’s Judge Doyle Square with mass timber but ultimately decided to go with a more conventional building method.

About Nate Beck

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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