State's Tallest Highrise Made From Wood

Jan 29, 2021

Apex is a wind power company based in Charlottesville, and true to its mission, the firm wanted its headquarters to be green. That’s why it’s building an eight-story highrise from a surprising material – wood.

When it’s finished, the new Apex building will be Virginia’s tallest structure made from mass timber – enormous panels of two-by-fours layered and glued together for strength. Architect Eric Ross says construction is 30-40% faster than building with concrete and steel."

“These are really uniquely prefabricated, highly engineered elements that come to the site and get put together like an erector set," he explains.  "They will assemble a floor per week.”  

The wood holds onto carbon while new trees are planted to replace those that were cut down.

“That sustainably harvested wood has sequestered carbon through its growth, and then the manufacturer is replanting the forest at a rate twice if not more than what they took out. So we’ve lowered our carbon footprint from the beginning,” he says. 

The firm has designed what will be the tallest mass timber building in the state.
Credit William McDonough+Partners

The panels can be as large as 8 feet by 60 and twelve inches thick.  Ross calls that plywood on steroids, and – he adds – the material doesn’t have to be painted or covered.

“This is a structural material that’s also a finished material.  It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s inviting.”

Right now, Ross is getting this building material from Canada, but he says this region could be ideal for making mass timber.

“There are plenty of softwood lumber producers in the Southeast and we’re starting to see interest in bringing mass timber manufacturing into the area.”

The panels can be as large as 8 feet by 60 and twelve inches thick.  Ross calls that plywood on steroids, and – he adds -- the material doesn’t have to be painted or covered.

“This is a structural material that’s also a finished material.  It’s warm, it’s beautiful, it’s inviting.”

Right now, Ross is getting mass timber panels from Canada, but he says this region could be ideal places to make this building material which has been used in Europe for decades.

“There are plenty of softwood lumber producers in the Southeast and we’re starting to see interest in bringing mass timber manufacturing into the area.” 

Here in the U.S., Ross says, mass timber has attracted a fair amount of corporate attention from companies like Starbucks, Walmart, Google and YouTube.

But it’s still too expensive for companies building residential subdivisions.  With support from his alma mater, the Savannah College of Art and Design, he’s created a plan to bring more mass timber into new home construction – a road map called Return to Zero, that refers to an old fashioned, energy efficient practice of building with materials close to home.