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SHoP Designs A 10-Story Wooden West Chelsea Condo Building

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When you think of high-rise condos, the first thing that probably comes to mind—particularly in the age of the supertall tower—is a building with a steel structure and a stark, glassy exterior. But that may not always be the case: the United States Department of Agriculture recently hosted a competition that challenged architects to create designs for buildings that are at least 80 feet tall, and which incorporate "mass timber, composite wood technologies and innovative building techniques." Two winning designs were selected: One, called Framework, will be based in Portland, Oregon; the other was designed by SHoP Architects, and if the project actually moves forward, it would be located at 475 West 18th Street, overlooking the High Line. The winners received a combined $3 million to begin the next, exploratory phases of the project.

SHoP's design calls for a 120-foot-high, 10-story condo that would have ground-floor retail space. In renderings that the firm created for the contest, dark wooden beams can be seen on the exterior, and a warm blonde wood is used throughout the interior (including on the walls and the floor). According to a press release, the firm also hopes to "reduc[e] overall energy consumption by at least 50 percent relative to current energy codes.," and will seek LEED Platinum certification for the building. They're partnering with engineering firm Arup, and the developers are 130-134 Holdings LLC and Spiritos Properties.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, SHoP principal Chris Sharples explained that, contrary to what people might think, "every element of the building, right down to the elevator core, can be constructed in wood." That's thanks to the fact that the material used nowadays—mass timber—is more innovative than its lumber predecessors. Here's what the USDA has to say (keeping in mind that this competition was produced, in part, with help from two wood industry groups):

Mass timber wood products are flexible, strong, and fire resistant, and can be used as a safe and sustainable alternative to concrete, masonry, and steel. Using wood helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon and simultaneously offsetting emissions from conventional building materials. Wood can also help struggling rural forest communities. Of course, using wood to create tall towers isn't without its issues: There are height limitations (according to the WSJ, few tall wood buildings are over ten stories high), and the perception that the lumber would simply act like kindling in the event of a fire. SHoP's other principal, Vishaan Chakrabarti, dismissed those concerns: "It's important to understand that these are not ordinary two-by-fours," he told WSJ. "This is a very special classification of wood in terms of its density."

Now that they've won, SHoP will begin the initial phases of getting the project off the ground, although part of entering the competition was "obtain[ing] early support from their respective authorities having jurisdiction to proceed." If all goes according to plan, construction could begin as early as 2016.

· A Manhattan Condo Made of—Wood? [WSJ]
· U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition Winners Revealed [USDA]
· All SHoP Coverage [Curbed]