Tree-Covered Timber Tower Proposed for Toronto

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It's built by TMBER, a new kid on the block with some very big ideas.

All the international design sites are gaga over a new tower proposed for Toronto. From London, Dezeen writes Penda proposes Toronto Tree Tower built from cross-laminated timber modules. From Milan, Designboom titles its post penda + tmber proposal for a timber tower bridges the gap between nature and culture. From (I think) New York, Inhabitat sez Trees to grow on the balconies of Penda’s timber high-rise in Toronto. From Toronto -- crickets?

According to Dezeen, which appears to be the original source of the story, it’s designed by PENDA, an interdisciplinary firm based in Austria and Beijing, and is being developed by a Canadian company named Tmber.

toronto tower by tmber


It’s 18 storeys of modular cross-laminated timber construction, which might be a challenge when the Ontario Building Code limits wood to six storeys. (There are proposals now for a 12-storey timber tower on the waterfront, but it has a ways to go.) It sort of looks like a wooden version of Stefano Boeri’s Bosco Verticale, with giant cantilevered balconies supporting big trees, which was hard enough to do in concrete and has never been done in CLT.

cantilevers on Tmbr tower


The designer is quoted in Dezeen:

"Our cities are an assembly of steel, concrete and glass," said Penda partner Chris Precht. "If you walk through the city and suddenly see a tower made of wood and plants, it will create an interesting contrast. The warm, natural appearance of wood and the plants growing on its facade bring the building to life and that could be a model for environmental friendly developments and sustainable extensions of our urban landscape," he added.

On Designboom, they quote the CEO of TMBER, with no upper case, as is their style.

one of the key elements in this project is the innovative use of wood and engineered wood technology found in the building. the tower is not only using massive wood panels as its main structural element, but has also timber clad panels as its façade. large out-door areas provide a space for herb and vegetable planters for the residents. the botany on the terraces offer a private garden for each apartments, which creates a certain degree of privacy within the density of the city. ‘in a way, we are growing the material for an extension of the tower on its terraces’, the architects joke. ‘this connection helps further develop a true ecological high-rise, supplies its residents with fresher air and provides a lower carbon footprint.’ says mark stein, CEO of tmber.

Although I live in Toronto and am a former real estate developer and architect, now writing about everything in wood construction, I had never heard of TMBER, which is apparently a partnership between Chris Precht of Penda andMark Stein, "a Canadian marketing, strategy and branding professional, with vast manufacturing and supply chain expertise with complex global programs with major retail." They describe their system:

TMBER is the world’s first bio brand building system utilizing CLT that produces healthy, quick-to-markets smart-panels and modular units used as solid wood construction structures for a wide variety of purposes like individual homes, affordable housing, student residences, mid and high rise urban developments and everything in between and beyond. TMBER panels are produced as part of a proprietary license (“virtual manufacturer") with the world’s largest producer of CLT. Located in Austria and with over 20 years of CLT manufacturing experience, this manufacturer is a vertically integrated eco-system that uses technology developed in house to produce more than 150,000 ft3 of material to selected world markets.
Shipping CLT


That's a shame, importing what's probably KLH CLT made in Austria (or maybe it's Stora Enso in Finland) because "currently, it is significantly more cost effective to import CLT panels from Europe than to manufacture in Canada or the USA." That's true, and you can't just order it up from the local TIM-BR mart; there are only a few factories making the stuff yet, but that is changing fast. It certainly won't endear TIMBR to anyone trying to build the industry here.

model rendering


The Toronto Timber Tower is what they call a "stackable high-rise."

CLT is a great material to manufacture residential units off-site and assemble on site. This provides less waste and a precise, high-detailed manufacturing process. It also decreases the time required or energy used on-site. The key to inspired modular projects is their connection to nature. Like Habitat in Montreal 50 years ago, a connection is established not only in function but in meaning to the surroundings. TMBER envisages mid and high-rise developments as tall gardens that provide inhabitants nature in and outside of a living space. The members of such a “habitat” are connected to a sense of community which becomes a source of pride and privilege besides a wonderful connection to the changing cityscape.

Interestingly, the URL for the page containing the Toronto renderings labels it "highrise-in-vancouver" where is might actually do better; I really cannot imagine trees that size surviving in a Toronto winter way out there on a balcony, and the snow loads are just going to make those cantilevers even harder to build.

detail from other building


CLT is one of our favourite building materials; I call it building out of sunshine. Austrian CLT is among the world's greenest building materials, made from sustainably harvested wood from managed forests. I am excited about this new company, TMBER; they have put a lot of energy into their website, with some beautiful virtual buildings to go along with their virtual licenses and virtual factories.

Wood construction has been slow to catch on in Toronto; the first CLT building proposed for the city switched back to concrete because the market did not respond favourably. This tower will have its own share of challenges. It’s not legal because of height and the fact that, even on wood buildings, the cladding has to be noncombustible; nobody in the world has done modular CLT on this scale; the cantilevers look impossible; and the monthly condo maintenance fees will be stratospheric with a wooden cladding.

balcony details


TIMBR, the company proposing it, has a beautiful website, big plans, and a team that "includes divisions in supply chain logistics, engineering, architecture, interior design, urban planning and client management to ensure CLT integration is seamless as it is innovative." And the principals! "Mark and Chris combine extreme talents and trusted experiences in manufacturing, branding, architecture and urban planning and together constitute formidable leadership team for a business called TMBER." That's really impressive.

It's all so exciting, I can't wait, and in Toronto, my own backyard!