Denver-based architecture office Tres Birds announced that Denver’s tallest mass timber building is planned to break ground in July 2023. The 12-story building named “Return to Form” will be located in the River North Arts District in Denver, US. Its structural system uses mass timber, a new technology that utilizes small-diameter trees from sustainably managed forests. Through continuous planting and responsible harvesting, these forests are becoming a source of renewable and low-impact building materials. The mass timber structure is comprised of wood panels that are glued and laminated together. This provides not only strength and stability but also fire resistance.
The recent development of mass timber construction allows us - for the first time in history - to design high-rise building structures out of a renewable resource: trees. This new fire-resistant building material is renewable, hence healthy for the planet. Trees utilize carbon to make oxygen, and vegetation cools the earth. Concrete – and the fossil fuels used to make and transport it – create more carbon that adds to global warming. We need to build all of our buildings out of renewable resources and manage those resources well. - Michael Moore, founder and design principal of Tres Birds
The project is the result of a competition, the 2022 Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero, in which Tres Birds and the development team won. The building features 84 dwelling units of various sizes. Four units will be affordable as defined by the City of Denver. The ground floor houses facilities such as a café, lobby, gym, and co-working spaces for the building residents. A rooftop deck and on-site parking complete the list of amenities.
The mass timber structure will be made from Douglas fir from the Pacific Northwest. The building is designed with exposed wood for the walls and ceilings. The large windows will slide open. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, only a small percentage of the building is made with concrete, the areas being restricted to the foundation, stairs, and the elevator core.
Earlier this year, Danish architecture practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen revealed the winning design of an international competition for the world’s tallest residential timber building, located in the Swiss city of Winterthur. The interest in mass timber construction is growing as a sustainable alternative to concrete despite the limitations imposed by some local building codes. Advancements in research, tests, and experiments are, however, encouraging the use of this material, even in areas at risk for seismic activity. The technology is also investigated for its modularity and its ability to be reused after the end of the useful life of the buildings, a concept called Design for Deconstruction or Design for Disassembly.