River Beech Tower

Perkins+Will, University of Cambridge, and Thornton Tomasetti


River Beech Tower seeks to provide the understanding necessary to design and construct tall buildings using today's new generation of engineered timber materials. Understanding the potential of timber structures on the scale of high-rise construction may be the single most impactful strategy a design team can make in the context of new and emerging material and engineering technologies. River Beech Tower pushes the limits of what is possible with today's materials and provides insight into the likely requirements and opportunities for the engineered timber and plant-based materials of tomorrow.

Designed in parallel with the master plan of a recently commissioned development along the Chicago River, the concept for River Beech Tower is rooted in real-world constraints, evolving as a programmatic, structural and research-driven exploration of the potential for tall timber construction. Situated adjacent to riverfront, the program is based on 300 duplex units arranged in twin single-loaded bars around a central atrium. This format was chosen to study the opportunities for modularity and prefabrication as well as take advantage of the proximity to existing lake and riverfront infrastructure for material sourcing and constructability opportunities. Despite reaching far greater heights than any existing timber building, the design uses only real, commercially available timber materials, and made possible by an innovative structural system engineered to take full advantage of timber's natural axial strength through a series of exterior diagrid systems.

The project continues to expand into a robust study focused on exploring the architectural possibilities afforded by engineered timber, while establishing a virtuous circle of design-led-research, and research-led-design and development. The research is ongoing as the team builds key structural components and modules at full-scale, and tests them at the loads expected in this very tall timber building.

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