Wooden high-rise trend reaches new heights in Norway

The wonderful world of superlatively tall wood buildings has just gained its newest title-holding champion in the form of Mjøstårnet (Mjøsa Tower), a handsome timber high-rise in the Norwegian town of Brumunddal topping out at 18 stories.

Rising 280 feet (85.4 meters) above Lake Mjøsa, Norway’s newly minted tallest-timber-tower-in-the-world isn’t really all that tall in the scheme of things. It’s shorter than Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, the Louisiana State Capitol and my grandmother’s old apartment building in downtown Seattle. It’s also 100 feet shorter than the world’s tallest woody perennial, a coast redwood hidden away in a remote section of Redwood National and State Parks, a string of parks in California. Regardless, a height of 280 feet is still an accomplishment for historically high-rise-adverse wood construction.

No doubt that Mjøstårnet’s reign as world’s tallest timber building will be a fleeting one as work kicks off on a number of increasingly high-reaching wood towers — often dubbed “plyscrapers” although none are technically skyscrapers — across the globe, each lankier than the next. (Here’s hoping that the moment when the tallest building constructed from wood surpasses the height of the tallest living thing composed of wood doesn’t go unnoticed.) Currently, plans are underway to build bragging rights-worthy tall wood towers in cities ranging from Tokyo to Milwaukee.

In September, forestry-heavy Oregon became the first state to codify its building codes to allow for tall wood buildings. The Beaver State’s tall wood ambitions, however, suffered a setback when plans to build Framework, a much-anticipated mixed-use Portland high-rise that took a “forest to frame” approach to construction, were scrapped due to costs. It that would have been the tallest timber building in North America.

Up until Mjøstårnet was officially designated as the tallest timber building in the world by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the title belonged to Brock Commons Tallwood House, a wood-concrete hybrid high-rise dormitory that towers 174 feet (53 meters) over the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. That’s significant growth as far as timber towers go — more than a 100-foot leap from once tallest to new tallest. Also very tall are Treet, an all-wood apartment building in Bergen, Norway, standing nearly 161 feet (49 meters) tall and a 147-foot-tall (45 meter) wooden office block in Brisbane, Australia.

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