South Loop Mega Development Could Sport Wood

(Nobody else would go there, so we had to.  Like you’re surprised.)

Rendering of Beech River Tower (Courtesy of Perkins+Will)

Rendering of Beech River Tower (Courtesy of Perkins+Will)

Chicago’s newest planned community may attract attention for more than its fabulous views, or riparian delights.  It may become the home of the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper.  The building is being penciled in at Perkins+Will’s Riverline development just south of Harrison Street.  The news was broken by ArchDaily a week ago, but the content aggregators only started picking up on it recently.

If the words “wood” and “skyscraper” make you cock your head quizzically like a dog staring at a gramophone, then you obviously haven’t been keeping up with your glossy architecture journals.  Green roofs and zero-energy algae pods are sooooo 2015.

Today the talk is making buildings sustainable by chucking out the steel we’ve known and refined for a century, and replacing it with wood, which we’ve known and refined for millennia.  Wood is better because we can grow more wood in a matter of decades.  Waiting for a volcano to spit out more iron ore takes forever, and pollutes the atmosphere.

There aren't words for how achingly beautiful the UBC campus is, so here's a student playing a violin in the commons that lead to the the rose garden that overlooks the many isles of the Strait of Georgia.

There aren’t words for how achingly beautiful the UBC campus is, so here’s a student playing a violin in the commons that lead to the the rose garden that overlooks the many isles of the Strait of Georgia.

No, Red Riding Hood, this is not Perkins+Will’s first walk through the forest.  On the gratuitously lovely campus of the University of British Columbia, P+W designed the Earth Sciences Building, which was built way back in 2012.  Using wood in its construction was the equivalent of taking 415 cars off the streets for a year.

The ESB is a five-story building divided into two sections, linked by a common atrium.  As luck would have it, that’s the basic idea behind the 18-story tower of timber that the firm plans for the South Loop, too.  But, obviously three times taller.  And not in an active seismic zone.

There are dozens of wooden skyscrapers being built around the world, especially in the lusher regions of the planet.  Most of them are in the 13-15 story range, with a few flirting with 20.  But those are all either proposals, or still under development.  The only completed skyscraper we could find is called TREET, in Bergen, Norway.  It clocks in at 14 stories, which may or may not qualify it as a skyscraper, depending on how you like to measure things.  It also has the problem of being really quite ugly.

The Perkins+Will idea is decidedly better looking, in large part because it has tons of glass.  But look through the images below and decide for yourself.  If it gets built, we’re eager to hear what it sounds like in a good Chicago winter storm.  The John Hancock Center is famously made of steel, yet in the wind it creaks like a haunted pirate ship.  Considering what we know of wooden houses, will a tower of wood be equally talkative?



Location: 600 South Wells Street, South Loop


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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1 Comment

  1. Correction: this tower would be eightY, not eightEEN, stories. As you mentioned, there are already 18 story wood towers, so that wouldn’t be a record.

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