Alphabet’s wooden skyscraper in Toronto could be tallest in the world

The Proto-Model X has no structural steel or concrete

Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff and a rendering of the tower (Credit: Sidewalk Labs/Michael Green Architecture and Gensler)
Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff and a rendering of the tower (Credit: Sidewalk Labs/Michael Green Architecture and Gensler)

Alphabet’s architecture and design arm has unveiled a proof of concept for what could be the world’s tallest mass-timber high-rise.

Sidewalk Labs, headed by former Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, released digital models, diagrams, and other design materials this week for its 35-story Proto-Model X planned in Toronto, according to Dezeen. Mass-timber construction means that the primary load-bearing structure is made of wood, which is not as strong as traditional structural materials like concrete and steel, but is considered more ecological.

That has limited the height of mass-timber structures — the tallest buildings of this type in the world is 18 stories and is located near a lake just north of Oslo. The 280-foot-tall Mjøstårnet tower uses a type of laminate wood compressed into load-bearing beams, according to CNN.

The Proto-Model X’s load bearing system is a timber “exoskeleton” façade, used because a timber core would have taken up too much floor space inside the building. The building wouldn’t be considered mass-timber had Sidewalk Labs used a steel or concrete system, a design that’s allowed for the thousands of glass-façade buildings built around the world over the last several decades.

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In that way, the Proto-Model X has more in common with the early exterior load-bearing skyscrapers of the early 20th century than it does with anything built in the last 70 years.

The wooden skyscraper concept isn’t new and is gaining popularity with designers and builders around the world for its eco-friendliness and attention-grabbing nature.

A 174-foot-tall wooden student housing tower with a concrete and steel frame will open in Vancouver this year. The 276-foot-tall HoHo Vienna opened in Austria recently, according to CNN.

Locally, architecture firm SHoP unveiled plans in 2015 for a 10-story timber building at 475 West 18th Street, but scrapped the design a year later over poor market conditions and city regulations. Flank is currently building a pair of wood-and-brick structures in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The commercial buildings at 320 and 360 Wythe Avenue are the first wooden structures built in the city in nearly a century.

[Dezeen, CNN] — Dennis Lynch

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