Oakland apartment project to pioneer mass ply construction

Multifamily with 19 stories would be the tallest building with eco-friendly floors

oWOW's Danny Haber with rendering of planned affordable residential project in downtown Oakland (oWOW, Getty)
oWOW's Danny Haber with rendering of planned affordable residential project in downtown Oakland (oWOW, Getty)

Oakland-based oWOW is developing a 19-story multifamily project in downtown Oakland that will be the tallest building in the world with a mass ply panel as the structural floor, according to CEO Danny Haber.

The mass ply panel reduces construction time and costs, which will allow all units to rent to tenants at or below 110 percent of the city’s average median income, Hber said. There will be 222 units and the building will be all electric with rooftop solar energy.

The building at 1510 Webster Street will feature 53 one-bedroom apartments and 169 two-bedroom units. There will be shared open spaces on the seventh and 17th floors.

Mass plywood is a large-scale structural panel made from wood veneers. The wood is 5 inches thick and lighter than cross-laminated timber, which is traditionally used. Haber added that mass plywood uses six times less carbon and 10 times less steel than conventional construction and comes from trees that are dying in the forest. Also, the floors do not fully burn because they have a layer of char.

“We are pioneering a new form of building, using the true meaning of sustainability which is not just good for the environment which mass timber is, but also where 100 percent of the apartments will have luxury quality, but at a price point that can be afforded by the moderate income bracket without any public subsidies,” Haber told The Real Deal.

Haber hopes the project “will be a start to a new way of building in the not-too-distant future.”

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The project also caught the attention of state officials.

“Projects like 1510 Webster Street in downtown Oakland, a highly sustainable building that targets the missing middle class which too often cannot find affordable housing near their jobs,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We know that creating denser housing near jobs, parks and schools is key to meeting our climate goals as well as our affordability goals, and California will continue working to build more inclusive neighborhoods across the state.”

Developers have voiced concerns about building in Oakland, with another local developer, Riaz Capital, telling the SF Business Times that concerns about cleanliness and public safety has the company looking beyond the city to develop moderately priced housing.

“We’ve been working in Oakland since 1998, and it’s worse than it was then. It’s just sad,” Riaz Taplin, CEO of the company, told the Business Times. “So I look at doing business in other places.”

Haber added that during the uncertain economic times we’re in, developers are going to have to be innovative to get a project across the finish line.

“As we head deep into a recession, if we continue to build like we did when money was free and interest rates were non-existent, then no new housing will get built,” he said. “It is our hope, with 1510 Webster as a proof point, oWOW can lead the way in creating sustainable urban housing.”

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