Sorry, timber nerds (we know there are a few of you out there somewhere); it looks like New York City won’t be getting a wooden skyscraper any time soon. The Real Deal reports that plans for a wooden skyscraper in Chelsea, designed by SHoP Architects, have been scrapped.
Back in 2015, the prolific architecture firm won a competition held by the the United States Department of Agriculture to design a high-rise using mass timber. Their submission was a 120-foot-tall, 10-story condo on West 18th Street, and for a while, it seemed like the project might actually happen. Developer Sy Ghassemi even signed on to help SHoP make the building—which would have risen on the site where La Luncheonette used to be—a reality.
But Ghassemi told TRD that “the project just wasn’t feasible.” Funding was an issue: SHoP received $1.5 million as part of the USDA competition (to be used for the initial, exploratory phases of the project), and Ghassemi purchased the lot on 18th Street in November, but the cooling-off of NYC’s condo market made the deal seem less attractive.
TRD notes that the city’s laws regarding wooden buildings may have also played a role: currently, structures made from wood are allowed to rise only six stories, so the SHoP project would have required some finagling to actually work.
Mass timber is less prone to fire than traditional wooden structures—when SHoP won the competition, former principal Vishaan Chakrabarti said “these are not ordinary two-by-fours—this is a very special classification of wood in terms of its density”—but that doesn’t necessarily mean the perception of wood-as-kindling wouldn’t be hard to shake.
But it’s becoming more prevalent in other parts of the U.S., and worldwide; there are at least eight high-rises using mass timber in development, and architects Perkins + Will recently released a concept for an 80-story timber tower in Chicago (though it’s unclear if that could even happen). And the other winner of the USDA contest, Oregon’s 12-story Framework, is actually moving forward.
SHoP, for its part, is still optimistic about mass timber’s potential in high-rise construction. “We remain enthusiastic about mass timber technology and continue to evolve the technology through other potential opportunities,” the firm told TRD in a statement.