On the 800 Block of East Washington, within the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood of downtown Madison, an architectural design well known in the Pacific Northwest is making its way into the Midwest.
The Baker’s Place building, a proposed building being built downtown, is what is known as a mass timber building.
The 14 story tall lumber landmark will be a mixed-use site, with 220 units available to rent, as well as 1100 square feet of commercial space on the bottom floor.
The building will utilize a material called mass timber.
But what is mass timber? According to the American Wood Council, mass timber is an architectural style that layers pieces of soft wood into a, well, massive, block of wood, which is then compressed and glued together to create the wall, floor, or roofing.
One of the main advantages of mass timber is its light carbon footprint, which is what drove Madison development company The Neutral Project to decide on it for the project.
The Neutral Project’s Managing Partner Nate Helbach spoke before the Madison Urban Design Commission last month, where Helbach pitched the merits of mass timber.
“The reason we chose mass timber as our design system is because it has a unique ability to sequester carbon, and is one of the only materials that aligns with our mission to reduce our carbon emission to neutral.”
The Neutral Project touts projections for reduced energy consumption in Baker House. Helbach also says elements like low flow sink fixtures and native landscapes will help conserve water.
“So we see water conservation as sort of a low hanging fruit right now that we want to pick in our sustainability standard, and what we plan to do is have low flow fixtures, native landscaping, green roofs, and a reduction in stormwater and wastewater.”
Now one question that is almost certainly on your mind is – wouldn’t a timber-made building be highly flammable? The American Wood Council assures us that mass timber actually works as a fire retardant, as tests funded by US Forest Service show that the wood will simply char, as it is too dense to actually burn, and mass timber does in fact meet fire safety standards.
Baker’s Place will take over a plot currently occupied by the historic Gardner Bakery. Project spokesperson Candice Nichol says the historic site will be preserved.
“You can see here we are maintaining the Gardner Bakery building along the frontage on East Washington Street, with a set-back 14 story massing that steps down towards East Main Street from ten stories down to nine stories.”
Opponents to the current plan state that, as it currently stands, Baker’s Place would exceed the maximum height allowed by code.
Under Wisconsin’s uniform building code, commercial mass timber buildings are limited to four stories unless the architect pursues a variance.
And last month, the Urban Design Commission approved a plan that allowed the project to seek just such a variance.
The mixed use site in Madison follows another project from the Neutral Project in Milwaukee. The 220-unit building, called the Edison, is still under review by the Milwaukee City Plan Commission.
Photo courtesy of Chali Pittman/WORT News