CTBUH declares Milwaukee tower Ascent the world’s tallest timber building

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CTBUH declares Milwaukee tower Ascent the world’s tallest timber building

The first five stories of Ascent would be cast-in-place concrete. (Courtesy Korb & Associates Architects)

Timber structures are seeing new heights—quite literally, as the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has named 25-story Ascent in Milwaukee the world’s tallest timber structure. The mixed-use luxury development also received designation as the tallest concrete-timber hybrid building. Its first five stories, housing ground-floor retail and parking, rise on cast-in-place concrete.

Designed by Milwaukee-based firm Korb & Associates Architects, this 284-foot tall timber tower stole the title of the world’s tallest timber building away from 280-foot-tall Mjøstårnet in Brumunddal, Norway and has also surpassed Vienna’s 276-foot-tall HoHo building as the tallest concrete-timber hybrid building, according to CTBUH.

Although Ascent topped the previous record by only four feet, one small marginal victory for tall timber means one giant leap toward more sustainable cities. This tall timber triumph also marks significant progress in mass timber construction at large and a greater effort to build healthier and greener cities under the growing pressure of climate change.

close up of ascent timber facade
The mass timber is fastened with steel connectors. (Courtesy CTBUH, ©Catalyst Construction)

“We didn’t set out to break records,” CEO of developer New Land Enterprises Tim Gokhman said at the certification ceremony, “We just wanted to create the best experience within the built environment for our residents. Mass timber is faster, more precise, lighter, more sustainable, more beautiful, and supports our commitment to biophilic design.”

Ascent was the result of about two years of research, testing, and planning, along with the collaboration of external stakeholders and experts from around the world. The tower also received city support: In 2019, the project received unanimous site rezoning approval from the Milwaukee City Council’s City Plan Commission.

According to CTBUH, the use of mass timber for the Ascent’s structural system also decreased construction time by approximately 25 percent, compared to a conventional concrete building of the same scale. Using the “digital twin” construction technology, every beam, column, and panel arrived on site with holes pre-drilled to within 1/16-inch accuracy and ready to be assembled. The mass timber is fastened with steel connectors.

The building broke ground just two years ago in August 2020, topped out in December 2021, and opened last month, with tenants beginning to move into the luxury development on July 15th.

The mixed-use timber tower comprises ground floor retail, parking, 259 apartment units, with a pool on the sixth floor. Korb & Associates also made a point to leave about half of the wooden elements exposed inside the building, giving the interior a warm finish.

people holding certificate outside building
Upon its completion the CTBUH hosted a certification ceremony at the site of the building formally designating Ascent the world’s tallest timber building. (Courtesy CTBUH, ©Catalyst Construction)

“Ascent is a very exciting project,” said CTBUH Director of Research and Thought Leadership Daniel Safarik. “It is helping advance the conversation about how we build more sustainable and healthy cities, especially in the face of mass urbanization and the increasing effects of climate change.”

Moving forward, Ascent will serve as a model for mass timber construction, a construction method that has seen significant growth in recent years. The building is a key case study in a CTBUH research project, “Future Timber City: An Awareness and Educational Program for Future, Sustainable, Dense Cities.” On September 28, AN will host TimberCon in partnership with the Mass Timber Institute, the online event will showcase exemplary timber projects across North America—including Ascent in a discussion with Korb & Associates Principal Jason Korb—and spotlight emerging technologies within the exciting field.