Schmidt Hammer Lassen unveils design for record-setting tall timber tower in Switzerland

A Tall Order

Schmidt Hammer Lassen unveils design for record-setting tall timber tower in Switzerland

Outside of Zurich, a historic Locomotive factory complex will give way to a mixed-use residential complex featuring a spacious public plaza and what's set to be the world's tallest all-timber tower. (Aesthetica Studio/Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects)

The town of Brumunddal, Norway, is facing some fierce new competition when it comes to maintaining its current bragging rights as being home to the world’s tallest timber tower, the 280-foot-tall Mjøstårnet by Voll Arkitekter. As recently unveiled by Danish firm Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects (SHL), it has designed the world’s new tallest all-timber tower, the 328-foot (100 meter) Rocket&Tigerli, which is set to rise in Winterthur, a Swiss city just northeast of Zurich straddling the German border, within four years.

The record-setting project, described as the “world’s tallest residential tower with a load-bearing structure in wood,” takes its name from the locomotives manufactured at the old Sulzer railway factory at the development site and will feature a mix of “regular” housing (255 units in total) along with student housing, hotel, retail spaces, restaurant, spa, and an upper-floor watering hole-slash-lounge space offering sweeping views of the city. Joining the 32-story tower are three low-slung timber buildings that will flank a spacious, greenery-filled public courtyard activating the development at street level.

The terra-cotta-clad facades of the new buildings pay homage to the architectural heritage of the industrial Lokstadt district. (Aesthetica Studio/Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects)

SHL’s design was selected via an international competition, beating out seven other shortlisted firms in the running for the project, which is set to breathe renewed life into Winterthur’s historic Lokstadt industrial district. Clad in dark red and yellow terra-cotta bricks that reference the district’s 19th-century yellow brick factory buildings, Rocket&Tigerli, while a pointedly conspicuous vertical addition to the area, also makes a concerted effort to blend into its historic environs at Lokstadt’s Dialogplatz.

As described by SHL, each of the four buildings that comprise Rocket&Tigerli “has its own visual identity to help create a strong sense of belonging among the residents, not only to the building that they are living in, but to the entire neighborhood.” The development, the firm continued, is designed to create a framework for an active and attractive neighborhood, deeply rooted in the area’s historical context, which offers modern, high-quality housing with maximum inflow of daylight.”

Key project partners joining SHL are Swiss construction and engineering giant Implenia, which is serving as the project developer on behalf of Ina Invest AG, and Swiss public research university ETH Zurich, which developed a new wood construction system that enabled the design team to reach new heights without the use of concrete.

Apartment units at Rocket&Tigerli will feature plenty of exposed wood and natural light. (Aesthetica Studio/Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects)

“The concrete core has been replaced with wood, resulting in the individual beam coming in at a lower weight,” wrote SHL in a news release. “This makes it possible to build taller constructions while, at the same time, ensuring that the entire building process achieves a lower amount of embedded carbon.”

Joining SHL on the competition-winning design team is Swiss studio Cometti Truffer Hodel Architects and several engineering firms including B3, Henaur-Gugler, Waldhauser+Hermann, and Bruckner+Ernst. SHL is also serving as landscape architect for Rocket&Tigerli alongside Vogt, which conceived the landscape design for the initial site master plan, including the development-anchoring green plaza.

Open public green space and dining and retail activate the new development at the street level. (Aesthetica Studio/Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects)

“We approach this project with a great sense of humbleness,” elaborated Kristian Ahlmark, partner and design director at SHL, in a press release shared by CNN. “It is a big project that will have a significant influence on the community, socially as well as aesthetically. Because of the strong expertise Switzerland has when it comes to building in wood, we are particularly proud to be working on this ground-breaking project.”

“At SHL, it is a tradition to design in wood, which is expressed through ongoing projects in Oslo, Dordrecht, Toronto, and Vancouver,” added Ahlmark. “We have always been proactive in our use of the material, not just because of its aesthetic qualities but also because of the technical construction possibilities it paves the way for. The new production method presented in this project brings our love for the material into a modern building.”

SHL’s unveiling of its winning design for Rocket&Tigerli comes at a time of increased mainstream interest in tall timber buildings. Both The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal have dedicated in-depth features to all-wood high-rises, including Mjøstårnet, in recent weeks. As mentioned, Rocket&Tigerli is set for completion by 2026.