Last year, AN's Midwest Editor Chris Bentley reported on the advances being made in wood construction and how we were on the verge of seeing tall timber towers sprout up around the world. The AEC community has been talking about building high-rise structures with wood for years, but there obviously hasn't been a major revolution with the building type just yet—the tallest modern wood building doesn't even top 100 feet. Well, that record is about to be shattered by a new tower in Vienna that could usher in a new era of high-rise development. The Guardian is reporting that a 276-foot-tall wood tower, known as the HoHo project, will start to rise in the Austrian capital next year. The designer of the project, Rüdiger Lainer and Partner, says the building will be made of 76 percent wood, saving 2,800 tons of carbon when compared to a similar concrete structure. Obviously, the creation of a wood building, especially a tall one, has people worrying about the elephant in the room: Fire. Since the building would be unprecedented, the Vienna fire service is reportedly working very closely with the architects to make sure everything is up to code and then some. “They have to carry out special tests on the correct combination of concrete and wood," a spokesperson for the fire service told the Guardian. "We also want to develop a more fail-safe sprinkler system. I expect they will pass the tests but if they develop the building as they say they will, it will be a serious project.” While somewhat counterintuitive, timber can actually be quite resistant to fire. As Bentley explained: "Heavy timber and cross-laminated timber actually have built-in fire protection; dense wood will burn slowly, charring instead of catching fire all at once. Part of bringing a wood building up to code is providing enough wood so that even after fire produces a 'char layer,' there is still enough left to support the structure."
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Roughly one year after it announced a fundraising campaign to reinvent its home with a Studio Gang–designed “cultural destination,” Writers Theatre in suburban Glencoe said Wednesday it had raised $22 million of the $28 million needed to build the structure on Chicago’s north shore. Studio Gang’s design employs a lot of wood—a nod to the half-timber wood construction of proto-Tudor style architecture in the U.K., where modern theater began. The airy lobby and 2nd-floor “grand gallery walk,” which circumscribes the lobby and provides access to the building’s main 250-seat theater, also acknowledge leafy Glencoe’s abundance of trees. A rooftop terrace and green roof tie into Friends Park across the street, while large windows serve as beacons to passersby. “We tried to open this theater up and make it part of the community,” Jeanne Gang said. The new building still needs $6 million in funding, but Writers Theatre staff were ebullient in their praise for donors who gave as much as $5 million to help realize the structure. “It maintains our commitment to intimate theater, while doubling our capacity,” said Michael Halberstam, Writers Theatre’s artistic director. “It will match the quality of our art and will allow us to make an even more significant investment in our artists.”