Mass-timber highrises coming to Downtown Oakland

19-story residential towers would be tallest wood buildings in the West

Rendering of 1523 Harrison Street, Oakland and oWow's Danny Haber (Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal with oWow Design, Getty)
Rendering of 1523 Harrison Street, Oakland and oWow's Danny Haber (Illustration by Kevin Cifuentes for The Real Deal with oWow Design, Getty)

A local developer wants to build a second 19-story, mass-timber highrise in Downtown Oakland, the tallest such building on the West Coast.

oWow, based in the city, plans to build a 269-unit residential project at 1523 Harrison Street, on a half-acre lot next to a 236-unit building under construction at 1510 Webster Street, the San Francisco Business Times reported.

The developer, which just began demolition for the 19-story Webster building, paid $9.3 million for the Harrison site in March.

oWow co-founder Danny Haber told the Business Times the company will submit plans within 30 days, with no timeline set.

When built, the high-rises would be the tallest mass-timber buildings in the state, and among the highest in the nation. The tallest mass timber building in the world is in Milwaukee, at 25 stories, ahead of an 18-story tower in Norway. Alphabet plans a 35-story wooden skyscraper in Toronto.

Tall mass timber buildings are more common in Europe and in Canada than in the U.S.

California allowed mass timber buildings to reach 18 stories last summer, a dramatic increase from when fortified wooden buildings were capped at six stories for residential and five for commercial, when regulators feared potential fires.

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The state updated its building code in the wake of changes to the International Building Code, which approved taller mass timber buildings after rigorous fire safety testing. The state also increased square footage and set guidelines for architects working with mass timber.

oWow, which has its own in-house design studio, was quick to announce plans for 18 stories of mass timber, atop a single story of concrete at 1510 Webster. The Harrison highrise will have the same design, Haber said, combining both towers into a 505-unit project.

The Harrison building would be clad in a two-tone mix of beige and white, and gray and white, with a cutout halfway up for a landscaped patio deck. Plans call for 15,000 square feet of office and retail space in each project.

The developer is keen on mass timber because of its efficiency: the material can be pre-fabricated and assembled with more speed, and less labor, than steel or concrete.

oWow could build a floor a week at its five-story mass timber project at 316 12th Street in Oakland, about the speed of “the best concrete people,” Haber told the Business Times. His goal is to reach a pace of two floors a week, creating a portfolio of units affordable by design.

Both towers will feature one- and two-bedroom apartments from 400 to 700 square feet, with standard layouts and floor plans that cut out dead space like foyers and hallways, he said. Rents at 1523 Harrison could start in the high $1,000s.

— Dana Bartholomew

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Renderings of 952-960 Howard Street in San Francisco, CA and oWow CEO Danny Haber (oWow Design, iStock)
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