Construction begins on Ascent in Milwaukee

Will be the world's tallest timber tower

Rendering: Korb + Associates Architects
Rendering: Korb + Associates Architects

Construction has commenced on Ascent, a 25-story apartment building that will be built in downtown Milwaukee and, once completed, will be the tallest mass timber tower in the world.

According to a news release, the project has secured building permits from the city of Milwaukee, and crews have broken ground on vertical construction at the project site, 700 E. Kilbourn Ave. Foundation work commenced last week. It is slated for completion in summer 2022.

At 284 feet tall, Ascent is poised to become the tallest hybrid timber structure in the world, according to the release. Its 259 apartment units will sit atop a six-story podium housing retail, parking, a swimming pool and fitness center. A full amenity floor atop the building will have sky decks, a wine-tasting room, lounge and an outdoor movie screen.

Ascent is being developed by Milwaukee-based New Land Enterprises and Milwaukee-based Wiechmann Enterprises. The project architect is Milwaukee-based Korb + Associates Architects.

“The issuance of building permits for Ascent represents a major milestone,” Jason Korb, principal of Korb + Associates, said in a statement. “This has been an incredible 2-year journey, working in continuous partnership with the city of Milwaukee, to create something rather extraordinary — a world class residential project that is also a major carbon sink.”

The developers said they have raised the required equity for the project, attracting the attention of lenders and investors nationwide despite challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We received multiple term sheets, and are moving ahead to close the deal,” Tim Gokhman, managing director of New Land, said in a statement. “The interest in this project is proof that the aesthetic, construction and sustainability benefits of mass timber have captured the attention and imagination of a broad spectrum of people.”

Fond du Lac-based C.D. Smith Construction Inc. and Milwaukee-based Catalyst Construction are leading construction work. Swinerton Mass Timber, of Portland, is in charge of procurement, logistics and installation of the mass timber material.

Rendering: Korb + Associates Architects
Rendering: Korb + Associates Architects

According to the release, the construction schedule will be four or five months shorter since Ascent was first “built” digitally, down to the smallest details. This process revealed any potential conflicts, which eliminates time spent resolving those conflicts in the field.

New Land began pre-leasing the units a few months ago, and has secured a number of reservations, including for three penthouses.

First invented in the 1920s, and re-imagined as a building material in the 1970s and ’80s, mass timber has been used for high rises across Europe, Australia and Canada. Changes to U.S. building codes recently opened the door for domestic mass timber high-rise construction.

Ascent received a federal grant from the U.S. Forest Service to assist with the rigorous testing needed to prove mass timber’s ability to perform as well as traditional building materials like concrete and steel. The results of those tests showed that mass timber performs as well or better than traditional materials during fires, earthquakes and strong winds, according to the release.

Ascent has received international attention since it was first introduced in 2018. The project has been presented at international conferences in Chicago, Dubai and Portland, and has been featured in publications across the globe. New Land also last year hosted a delegation from Taiwan looking to learn more about wood buildings.

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