First Modern Wooden Office Building Planned for Chicago

February 9, 2017

Houston-based Hines Interests is seeking zoning approval for its new project at 1017 W. Division Street in Chicago.  The building would be similar to the seven-story T3 office building finished in 2016 in Minneapolis which was built using engineered wood with each floor separated by a concrete layer. Interior columns are made of glued laminated beams. The developer's website says using heavy timber construction for the T3 building reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to operating a home for 430 years.

Video: Watch as the T3 builing 'grows' here.

The area, known as Goose Island to locals, is 160-acres of dredged earth that was the by-product of channel excavation done in the mid-1800's to deepen the Chicago River. Bound on the north by North Avenue, on the south by Chicago Avenue, and cut in half by east-west running Division Street, the island has been used for raising livestock, railroad maintenance, coal storage, and grain elevators over the years. At one point the area was nicknamed "Little Hell' because of the smoke produced by industrial plants like Peoples Gas, Light & Coke Company. The North Branch Canal on the east side of the island helped defend the site during the 1872 Chicago Fire. More recently, Goose Island has been undergoing redevelopment repurposing old warehouses into residential and office spaces.    

Timber towers are trending in other cities, too. Plans for wooden high-rises are in the works in Stockholm, London, and Melbourne. Perkins+Will recently proposed an 80-story wood tower on the Chicago River.

Not to ignore the elephant in the room, some experts say the whole 'fire' thing isn't a big deal anymore.

Dr. Michael Ramage, of the Center for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge University, says "There is a huge perception problem. Timber doesn't burn in the way the public imagines. The great fires of London and Chicago were both sparked by very small pieces of wood. Very big pieces of wood are quite hard to set on fire -- they aren't kindling material."

Wood, he says, burns predictably. Therefore, fire engineers can calculate how large a block of wood is needed to provide a protective layer to sustain a building for a certain period of time.