In some ways, a wooden condominium tower planned for Chelsea has roots in an 18th-century barn.
Chris Sharples, a principal at SHoP Architects, remembers the barn as one of his first encounters with architecture, at his childhood home in Pennsylvania’s Chester County. He recalls marveling at its beautiful, exposed wooden beams, and it’s this intimate quality of bringing the “tectonic outside” inside that he hopes to replicate at 475 West 18th Street.
“It’s just amazing that we could actually think about building mid-rise, high-rise buildings out of this very traditional material,” he said. “We’ve come full circle.”
The Chelsea project is the first of its kind in New York City, but across the world, a growing number of developers and architects are trading steel’s luster for logs. The U.S. is rather behind other countries: Paris’ “Baobab” is projected to be the tallest wooden building in the world at 35 stories, followed by Vienna’s “HoHo” project at 24 stories. SHoP’s building — which is being developed by 130 134 Holdings LLC, Spiritos Properties, Arup, Icor Associates and Atelier Ten — is still in the early stages of approvals with the city and navigating building codes that cut wooden structures off at six stories.
For wood building to catch on, people need to see them differently. A wooden tower can seem synonymous with a tinderbox, summoning antiquated yet vivid images of blazes that devastated cities. And taller ones can conjure up thoughts of towering infernos.