Wooden skyscrapers, fact or fiction? Meet the 5 tallest mass timber structures in the world.

When most people hear the word “skyscraper”, they think of towering structures that shoot up as far as the eye can see, all held up by copious amounts of concrete and steel. Wood never really factors into the equation, except as a supporting material, right? Wrong.

Wood, which on its own lacks concrete’s compressive strength and steel’s tensile strength, has traditionally been thought of as too weak to build these massive structures - but that was before mass timber.

Today, engineered mass timber products are revolutionising the construction industry by making it possible to build taller wood structures than ever and making the process quicker, safer and more sustainable. The trend has caught on like wildfire, with impressive wooden structures popping up all over the world, including Europe, Australia, Canada and the US. 

Before introducing you to some of the worlds tallest mass timber buildings, and the benefits of mass timber construction, let’s take a closer look at the technology that makes it all possible.  

How mass timber works.

Mass timber products start out like regular boards of wood, which are then engineered to become stronger and more resilient, widening their applications in construction. Examples of mass timber products include:

Glulam and CLT are the most commonly used forms of mass timber, so let’s take a deeper look at how they work.

What is glue-laminated timber (glulam)?  

Glulam essentially “glues” boards of dimensional lumber together in the same direction to form massive beams. Each board is selected and positioned according to defects and grain structure to maximise its structural integrity. 

Stacking the wood boards together and bonding them with strong and moisture-resistant structural adhesives increases their tensile strength, making them perfect for load-bearing beams and columns. 

Wooden lamellas being glued together

What is cross-laminated timber (CLT)?

CLT consists of wood boards glued together in alternating layers, each set at ninety degrees from the one below it. In other words, the layers alternate between horizontal and vertical directions. This creates large slabs with structural rigidity in every direction, giving it a compressive strength comparable to concrete - with some added benefits.

For example, while concrete needs to be cast and dried in a mould, timber is easily cut and shaped using computer-aided cutting machines. Wood is also lighter than concrete and can be processed in an off-site location, while concrete has to be poured on-site and requires time and the right weather conditions to harden. These factors considered, you can see why wood is becoming an increasingly attractive option for all different types of construction.   

Now that you know a bit more about how mass timber works, let’s take a look at what you can do with it.

Cross Laminated Timber Beam

The 5 tallest wooden structures in the world.

Notice we didn’t use the word “skyscraper” in the subtitle above? That’s because, according to most sources, buildings have to be at least 100m to 150m tall to be considered part of that category. For example, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai stands at a remarkable 828 metres high. 

Timber constructions haven’t reached those heights yet, but mass timber is making it possible for architects and engineers worldwide to push the boundaries of what was previously considered possible with wood structures. Here are just five of the most notable examples:

Mjøstårnet - photo credit: Ricardo Foto

1. Mjøstårnet - Norway 

Height: 85,4m

Mjøstårnet which translates into “the tower of lake Mjøsa”, is located in the small Norwegian town of Brumunddal. Completed in 2019, the Mjøsa Tower is the tallest mass timber structure in the world and stands as a symbol of the shift towards more sustainable construction practices. 

The building has 18 floors that house various offices, residential apartments and a hotel and is made of a combination of glulam columns and beams and CLT elevator shafts and terraces.

HoHo Vienna

2. HoHo Vienna - Austria 

Height: 84m

Completed in 2018, the Holz High-rise, aka “HoHo Vienna”, has 24 floors and houses a hotel, offices, apartments and a wellness centre. 75% of the outer structure is made of wood, with most of the internal beams and walls made from glulam and CLT. 

According to the designers, the use of wood, in this case, will help curb around 2.800 metric tons of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

This project was partially realised through hsbcad’s hsbCLT software for AutoCAD. Check out more about the HoHo Vienna project in our client case bundle.

Brock Commons Tallwood House

3. Brock Commons Tallwood House - Canada 

Height: 53m

Located at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and completed in 2017, Brock Commons Tallwood House is a 404-bed student residential building. Its prefabricated (offsite) facade, went up in just 66 days, features pre-installed windows and is covered in 70% wood fibres. 

The timber used in the construction stores up to 1.753 metric tons of CO2 and reduces an additional 679 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Treet - photo credit: Knut Werner Lindeberg Alsen

4. Treet - Norway 

Height: 51m

The Treet, aka “The Tree”, in reference to the wood used in its construction, is made of glulam trusses with a concrete deck (to give it the required weight). The building is home to 62 luxury apartment residences, built using modular construction.

According to the creators of the building, Bergen and Omegn Building Society, the use of mass timber helps reduce CO2 emissions by over 21.000 metric tons.

Forte Development - photo credit: Lend Lease Development

5. Forte Development - Australia

Height: 32m

The Forte Development, located in Melbourne’s Victoria Harbour, was the first mass timber high-rise in Australia built entirely from CLT. Featuring ten floors, twenty-three residential apartments and four townhouses, the building was completed in just eleven months. 

Built with energy efficiency in mind, the 759 CLT panels used during the construction will help reduce carbon emissions by over 1.400 tonnes.

The benefits of mass timber use in construction.

Here are just a few of the benefits that are driving the use of mass timber in the construction industry today:

Mass timber can be produced in an offsite environment 

Off-site projects enable off-site (e.g. at the factory) and on-site teams to work in parallel tracks, making timelines faster and more streamlined. Through software tool sets (like the hsbcad tool sets) BIM-compliance can be achieved.

It’s sustainable 

One of the biggest benefits of mass timber construction is its sustainability element, which is three-fold:

It captures and stores C02

Trees absorb CO2 keeping it chemically locked away or “sequestered”, as long as the wood doesn’t rot or burn. Using wood for building keeps the structure intact, keeping the CO2 captured and out of our atmosphere. 

Less CO2 than steel or concrete

The production of steel and concrete is responsible for large quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) getting released into the atmosphere. Wood is produced naturally and gives off fewer emissions. In fact, according to Science Magazine, if we globally replaced steel with mass timber products like CLT, we could reduce C02 emissions by 15% to 20%.

Image of factory visualising CO2-emission

It can be good for forests

As the use of mass timber products grows, so will the investment and vested interest in keeping our forests safe, healthy and plentiful. 

It’s fire safe

The multi-layered nature of mass timber products makes them more resistant to fires because only the outer, exposed layers get burned or “charred”. This effect insulates the inner layers from harm, making the repair as easy as replacing the outer wood boards. 

It’s faster, cost-effective and reduces waste

Much of the construction process using mass timber is done externally in a factory, computer-assisted setting. This is often much quicker than having to order a massive amount of materials to be sized and put together by teams on-site.

The precision of a computer-assisted factory setting reduces the chances of mistakes, reduces manual labour costs, and enables a more efficient use of materials (less waste). 

It performs well during earthquakes 

Unlike mass timber, concrete tends to crack during earthquakes, and depending on the damage, the building might have to be demolished and replaced. Mass timber buildings are easier to repair in such cases. 

Mass timber buildings are also about 20% lighter than concrete structures; this means they require smaller foundations, which are more resistant to seismic forces. 

It’s visually appealing

Wood is one of those universally attractive materials that is versatile, timeless and appeals to a wide range of people - making them feel more connected to nature. 

Pyramidenkogel by Rubner Holzbau

The future of mass timber.

As mass timber products continue to evolve, so will its uses in construction, spurred in great part by the rising global demand for increased sustainability, efficiency and affordability. Indeed, the thought of having our buildings act as an environmentally friendly carbon sink, much like our forests do, is an idea that most people would find appealing. 

The proof is in the pudding with mass timber buildings trending and getting taller all over the world, like the plans for the River Beech Tower in Chicago, which will be 228 meters tall if constructed. The realisation of these types of projects is sure to bring more awareness to the possibilities of mass timber, making them more widely used and mainstream. 

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Keith Cotter
Sales Manager