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Race to the (Tree) Top: Tallest Timber Tower Now Under Construction in Chicago

tallest timber tower chicago

The world’s tallest timber tower is in Vancouver – or is it Portland? Amsterdam? These days, it’s impossible to call, because ambitious wooden skyscrapers are under construction all over the world, all competing with each other for the title. Just as an 18-story student residence at the University of British Columbia in Canada topped out in September, temporarily laying claim on the record, plans were announced for a skyscraper set to be built in Chicago that will smash every project currently completed or in active development.

timber tower chicago 2

Architecture firm Perkins + Will unveiled designs for the River Beech Tower, an 80-story timber high-rise for the city’s Riverline development project, besting the Vancouver project by an astonishing 62 stories. That’s far and away the clearest vote of confidence wooden skyscrapers have yet to receive, as governments the world over tentatively begin to raise strict limits on the height of timber structures.

timber tower chicago 3

What makes this project different? A unique diagonal-grid framework, which stretches the strength of timber to its fullest potential and eliminates the need for steel or concrete reinforcement. The team stresses that they’re using only “real, commercially available timber materials” rather than any kind of groundbreaking technology, forgoing even the usual cross-laminated timber (CLT) method.

beech tower

Their ‘exterior diagram system’ takes advantage of timber’s natural axial strength, relying on connecting the outer diagrams to the internal cross-bracing to support vertical and lateral loads. The design itself is visually stunning, too, with glass inserted between the triangular grid, a series of sky-high balconies and a central atrium full of skybridges.


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