Michigan Names an Eastern White Pine on the Upper Peninsula its Tallest Tree

The search for Michigan’s tallest tree has found its victor: a staggering Eastern White Pine located in a remote area on the state’s beautiful Upper Peninsula. Discovered by Nick Hansen during a backpacking trip through the McCormick Wilderness this spring, the tree was clearly special from the moment he spotted it, even by the dim light of a headlamp after dark.

I’d seen a lot of big white pines — I’ve been to Hartwick Pines — and this thing just dwarfed anything I’d seen in actual, designated old growth areas,” Hansen told Michigan Live. “I was pretty mystified by that.”

When his trip was over, Hansen reported the tree to Michigan Botanical Club’s Big Tree Register program, who sent out expert Byron Sailor to take its official measurements. As it turns out, the amazing 155-foot-tall tree is not just the state’s tallest white pine, it’s the tallest tree currently on record in Michigan. The previous champion was an Eastern White Pine topping out at 143 feet tall. It isn’t just its towering height that’s impressive, either. The tree has a 63-foot crown spread and a circumference of more than 15 feet.

State coordinator Ted Reuschel says the tree’s location makes it even more special. “The vast majority of the big trees on the register are not out in the woods; they’re in cemeteries and parks and golf courses and places like that,” places where they’ve been protected, he explains.

All-Timber Neighborhood Fuses the Best of Urban and Rural Living

What would your neighborhood look and feel like if it were redesigned to be sustainable and made almost entirely of wood – while also retaining the local and regional characteristics that make it special? Architecture firm Henning Larsen provides some fertile inspiration for all of us with Faelledby, an all-timber neighborhood for Copenhagen fusing traditional Danish urban and rural architectural typologies to create a new kind of “hybrid neighborhood” prioritizing connection to each other and to nature.

People living in cities usually benefit from proximity to resources, like jobs, schools, hospitals, shopping and cultural attractions. Rural villagers, on the other hand, might be isolated from some of these things, but they tend to know each other a little better, and have a lot more outdoor space to roam. Henning Larsen’s new timber neighborhood aims to balance the best of both, integrating the landscape organically into the plan.

“The Vejlands community will be entirely timber construction, with individual buildings featuring birdhouses and animal habitats integrated within the building facades.”

Their choice of wood is both aesthetic and strategic. The renderings show how beautifully it’s worked into every aspect of the design, from scenic overlooks and rooftop gardens to boardwalks that wind through wetland areas.

“Compared to alternative materials such as steel or concrete, timber captures and stores CO2 during its growth – as a building material, it active removes CO2 from the environment as it is produced,” the architects explain. “Fælledby is the latest in a resurgence of timber construction throughout Scandinavia, as the region sets a global example for sustainable contemporary architecture. “

Top 2021 Trends in Timber Construction

CLT building in Boston

A new Think Wood survey (pdf) gives us a peek into what kinds of wood-related building projects we’ll see a lot more of this year. The industry group surveyed 775 U.S. architects, contractors, developers and industry experts to build a list of the top trends in timber construction, and how much they’ll likely continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While 38% of respondents expect to see some delays this year, 28% expect no impact at all, and another 28% say they think it’ll all depend on factors like vaccination and reopening schedules in various states. Interestingly, many said their projects have been altered to prioritize good ventilation and lots of space for occupants to remain apart from each other, a trend likely to continue at least a few years into the future. 

The report offers five major predictions about the future: more focus on climate change, greater use of mass timber, widespread adoption of prefab and modular construction techniques, higher interest in hybrid construction and higher demand for affordable housing.

Trend 1: Focus on Climate Change

Industry experts say they expect low-to-zero-carbon and green building to be the biggest trend in 2021, driven in large part by industry, government and individual companies’ energy and carbon reduction targets. The market for non-residential green buildings reached about $80 billion in 2020 despite the pandemic, and is expected to reach $103 billion by 2023. Wood products are considered the number one best way to meet these goals, since they require less energy to manufacture and store carbon throughout the useful life of the building or project.

Trend 2: More Mass Timber

Breakthroughs in mass timber technology have made super-tall wooden buildings possible, and this material will continue to rise in adoption and popularity this year. Many mass timber projects are underway in the U.S. right now, and 18% of survey respondents expected to work on at least one.

“Mass timber isn’t simply a green building fad, it’s a resurgence of one of the oldest building materials used by man. The desire to use wood in commercial buildings will increase not only because it’s the more sustainable choice, but because building occupants and tenants will prefer it.” — Andrew Tsay Jacobs, Director of Building Technology Lab, AIA, EIT | Perkins&Will

Trend 3: A Boost in Prefab & Modular

Prefabrication and modular construction cut costs, reduce waste, are much faster to build and rate higher for quality and safety performance than conventional construction. Survey respondents believe that as the building industry adopts tech like 3D modeling tools and CNC machines, these methods will become a lot more common. Wood, of course, remains a popular material for prefab and modular building systems.

“I am now focusing exclusively on prefabricated hybrid residential design and construction solutions that prioritize energy efficiency, low carbon footprints and occupant health and well-being.” — Timber Trends Survey Respondent

Trend 4: Hybrid Construction

We’ll see a lot more wood (especially in the form of mass timber) being integrated into projects that once would have relied primarily on materials like steel and concrete. This “hybrid construction” type of building incorporates several types of structural materials to enhance sustainability and help with budget control. 

Trend 5: An Abundance of Affordable Housing

Even before the pandemic, 30.2 percent of American households spent more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. We need more affordable housing just about everywhere, and survey respondents believe many affordable multi-family developments are coming this year. Timber plays an important role in affordable housing by improving access to living spaces that are economical, comfortable and sustainable, Timber Trends notes, and adding stories to existing buildings is more feasible with timber because of its lighter weight. 

New Super-Tall Wood Building Underway in Milwaukee

Ascent Timber Tower from the ground

Currently in contention for the title of “world’s tallest wooden building” is “Ascent,” a 25-story mass timber tower under construction right now in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Standing 285 feet tall, the residential complex by Korb + Associates Architects benefits from the plans, approvals and fire tests completed for the never-built “Framework” tower previously planned for Portland, Oregon, funded by a $1.5-million U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize.

Ascent, set to open in 2021, will offer 493,000 square feet of mixed-use space, including 258 apartments, a pool on the sixth floor and a top floor amenity level. It will also have a six-story reinforced concrete parking podium with post-tensioned slabs and a full-height reinforced concrete core near the end of each leg.

Ascent TImber Tower

The record-breaking design “exposes the mass timber construction whenever possible to display its natural qualities,” says structural engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, which worked on the project.

That much is apparent fro the photos. Developer New Land Enterprises wanted the building to have a natural look with a modern edge, and it definitely achieves that, inside and out. The apartments will be made almost entirely from cross laminated timber (CLT), which is made by layering kiln-dried lumber in alternating directions and pressing it together with structural adhesive.

Ascent Timber Tower inside
Ascent timber tower public area

Tall timber buildings always rise concerns about fire. 

“Any building, whether mass timber, concrete or steel, has to meet certain fire codes … that’s in the zoning code,” says Tim Gokhman, managing director of New Land Enterprise, in an interview with OnMilwaukee. “No one in the United States met it yet (with mass timber) because no one’s tried. And so in that sense it hasn’t been done.”

So, in order to get the building approved, the engineers “did the world’s first three-hour fire test,” he explains. The CLT panels were sent to a U.S. Forest Service laboratory on the UW-Madison campus. That’s an hour longer than required to meet the fire codes. “They’re not able to release the official results yet, but the initial feedback is very positive,” says Gokhman.

“Steel will fail at about 1100 degrees, and during our fire test, the temperature exceeded that. They had a rod inside the timber (near) the core of the wood, and it was below 100 degrees. Wood is not a good conductor; as a result it’s a great insulator. If you look at any forest fire and at a cross section of the tree, it right away tells you the same story.”

“The inside of the tree is always intact. It has to do with the density and that outside char layer. But the code already knows this. It’s not like the construction industry doesn’t know this. We can’t have in our building any exposed steel. It has to be protected. So either you spray it or you bury it inside the wood. So the steel is protected by the wood.”

Ascent timber tower water view

When it’s finished, Ascent will beat out the current world’s tallest mass timber building, Mjøstärnet in Norway, by four feet. It’ll also best North America’s tallest timber tower, which is currently Vancouver’s 174-foot Brock Commons Tallwood House. 


The Sky is the Limit for New Timber Buildings

sou fujimoto timber building

The 21st century is gearing up to become the golden age of wooden architecture. Over the next 40 years, we’ll likely need nearly 2.5 trillion square feet of new construction to support growth, and the world’s architects, developers, governments and other institutions are increasingly calling for the use of wood as a primary material.

In a new piece called “The Trees and the Forest of New Towers,” The New York Times explains why. The short answer? Sustainability, naturally. But that’s not all.

‘We’re past the tipping point in the acceptance of wood,’ said Thomas Robinson, founder of the Portland, Ore., firm Lever Architecture, which recently completed the Nature Conservancy’s local offices and community center using Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and is working on an expanded mass-timber headquarters for Adidas. ‘The people who are the innovators, looking for the next thing, a richer experience for their employees or how they live, they’re turning to mass timber.’ The benefits are aesthetic and environmentally responsible, he added. ‘People just connect to wood in a way that is visceral.’”

People might not think that cutting down trees to build architecture is environmentally sensitive, but that’s where sustainably managed forests come in, strategically planted and harvested to ensure an ongoing supply that meets demand while also providing essential wildlife habitats, capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere and giving us the green spaces we need to be healthy.

Advancements in engineered wood have enabled huge multi-story timber towers to be constructed around the globe. The International Building Code was changed last year to allow wooden buildings up to 270 feet tall, and while the United States code won’t adopt new standards until 2021, some states are already allowing projects based on the new criteria to be submitted.

Check out some of the tall wooden building projects we’ve covered recently:

Wooden Skyscraper City! New Stockholm Proposal Reaches for the Skies

This Timber Skyscraper Design for Chicago is Truly Spectacular

1,148 Feet of Timber: World’s Tallest Wooden Skyscraper Planned for Tokyo

London’s Dalston Lane is World’s Largest CLT Structure

Tree Tower: Sustainable Timber High-Rise for Toronto Incorporates Living Plants

Timber City: A New Trend of Tall Timber Architecture on Display in Washington D.C.

Tree Tower: Sustainable Timber High-Rise for Toronto Incorporates Living Plants

timber tower 4

Rising 18 stories from street level in Toronto, with each of its balconies augmented by verdant greenery, this sustainable structure shows off the capabilities of tall timber construction. Penda Architects teamed up with wood consulting firm Tmber to propose a modular high-rise tower built almost entirely from wood. Massive wood panels make up the main structural elements of the building, and the facade is clad in timber panels.

timber tower

Such extensive use of wood in a 200-foot-tall building will be a first for Toronto, and the architects hope it will help jump-start a trend of sustainable wooden architecture throughout the city. They joke that they’re growing the materials for future expansion of the building right on its own balconies in the form of living trees.

timber tower 3

“Our cities are an assembly of steel, concrete and glass,” says Penda. “If you walk through the city and suddenly see a tower made of wood and plants, it will create an interesting contrast. The warm, natural appearance of wood and the plants growing on its facade bring the building to life and could be a model for environmental friendly developments and sustainable extensions of our urban landscape.”

timber tower 2

The connection between the visible wooden construction of the building and the living trees “helps further develop a true ecological high rise, supplies its residents with fresher air and provides a lower carbon footprint,” says Mark Stein, CEO of Tmber. “The extensive use of wood will set ambitious sustainability targets and will be a catalyst for similar developments in Canada.”

The mixed-use building will contain residential units as well as public facilities like a community workshop, cafe and daycare center.