Denver, Colorado is about to get a new look on the skyline — the tallest mass timber building in the city, which will break ground summer 2023. 

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A tall timber building in the middle of a city

Located in the River North (RiNo) Arts District, the 12-story “Return to Form” building will provide residential housing with a total of 84 dwellings. The layout will include four penthouse units, 32 two-bedroom units, 32 one-bedroom units and 16 studio units. Four of the units will classify as “affordable” as defined by the city. The lowest level will feature a public cafe, as well as a lobby, gym and co-working spaces. The building will also support a rooftop deck for resident use. 

Related: North America’s first mass timber hotel opens in Austin

A bottom area with glass windows to show inside seating

The architectural firm Tres Birds, known for their carbon minimizing construction methods, is optimistic about the future of mass timber as a viable and sustainable building material. The relatively new technology uses trees with a small diameter that are harvested from sustainably-managed forests to ensure renewability and health of the resource. The trees are converted into wood panels that are then pressed together, glued and laminated. The finished product is fire-resistant and strong. 

The side of a high-rise showing the inside of one floor

Until now, builders have been limited in material options for tall buildings, often relying on less renewable options like steel and concrete

“The recent development of mass timber construction allows us — for the first time in history — to design high-rise building structures out of a renewable resource: trees,” said Michael Moore, founder and design principal of Tres Birds. “This new fire-resistant building material is renewable, hence healthy for the planet. Trees utilize carbon to make oxygen, and vegetation cools the earth. Concrete — and the fossil fuels used to make and transport it — create more carbon that adds to global warming. We need to be building all of our buildings out of renewable resources and manage those resources well.”

Wooden slats rising up and forming to pathways

The design is attracting attention with Tres Birds and the development team winning the 2022 Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero. The “Return to Form” project will share in a $2,000,000 prize sponsored by the Softwood Lumber Board (SLB) and USDA Forest Service (USDA). The project team includes Katz Development, Timberlab, ARUP and KL&A Engineers and Builders.

For Return to Form, the materials will derive from Douglas fir sourced out of the Pacific Northwest. The interior design will incorporate the wood appeal with walls and ceilings of exposed wood.  

+ Tres Birds

Images via Tres Birds