Ascent's floor to ceiling windows, which overlook downtown Milwaukee, let the sun shine through Reginald Baylor's 25th-floor studio. He said that it is always summer there.
Baylor enjoyed the warmth of the daylight and prepared for a studio session that was expected to be full capacity for the residents in the Ascent Building. The ceiling and structural columns of the building were made from mass timber, which gave it a natural look.
Ascent's natural nature - the developer Tim Gokhman calls it 'biophilic' design - is a result of being the tallest mass timber building in the world. The development is a technological and economic advance that goes beyond the height record. It has a significant impact on the real estate market far beyond Milwaukee.
Gokhman said, 'Mass Timber usually dominates the conversation, and steals all the attention, but this building uses a significant amount technology to improve living experience.'
Since the project's announcement in October 2018, Ascent's mass-timber design has gained international attention. Gokhman, his architect Jason Korb and their team flew to Dubai shortly after announcing plans for a mass timber building that would have set the height record in the Western Hemisphere only.
In the years that followed, the building gained height as a result of design changes. It was a contender for the record height and eventually won it. Korb and Gokhman were contacted by other designers and developers throughout the planning process. They wanted to know what they did. Now, they host visitors from all over the U.S. to see the final product.
Gokhman explained that since it was a new technology there would be questions which had never been asked before. It's often not about whether it is solvable, but rather what is the best way to solve it.
Ascent's team of construction workers at C.D. Smith Construction discovered that leaf blowers are the fastest way to remove water from the mass timber decks during construction.
Gokhman laughed. It's all about the little things.
Ascent changed the way that builders and regulators think about high-rises made of mass timber in the U.S. Korb remembered a meeting with officials from the city of Milwaukee Department of Neighborhood Services in early May 2018 to discuss the concept.
Korb stated that 'he didn't answer yes or no. So we continue to do these things until someone replies 'no'.
Milwaukee officials, including Fire Chief Aaron Lipski, were open to the idea. Lipski testified recently about mass timber fire safety at a city meeting in St. Louis regarding a mass-timber high-rise Korb designed in this city.
Ascent's team performed the first-of their-kind tests on the structural mass timber pieces in late 2019 or early 2020 to show that the material can resist fire as well as, if it is not better than, steel or concrete. The ability to prove fire safety is a key factor in gaining approval for mass timber towers from multiple communities.
Korb stated that 'those tests are a valuable resource for anyone in the nation'.
Ascent's performance in the financial arena could open up new doors. Gokhman stated that the building, due to be completed in summer 2022 was already 80% leased by mid-April. This is well ahead of what the development team had projected. The natural elements in the design of the building, he said, help to attract tenants.
Korb says that the strong rental performance of Ascent and Intro, a mass timber apartment complex in Cleveland, could make it easier for future mass wood developments to borrow money.
He said that occupancy rates were higher than expected and faster than anticipated. Underwriting at higher rental rates can offset the premium cost for timber.
Ascent is a pioneer in the Milwaukee rental market. Gokhman noted that the amenities offered are in proportion to its apartment count. Two rooftop decks are available to renters, as is Baylor's studio. The top floor also has shared amenities. The sixth-floor swimming pool has sliding doors that open in warmer months.
Gokhman stated that Milwaukee had never seen amenities on this scale or with this aesthetic.
Ascent's 25th-floor amenities are 360-degrees, not a walled-off space for huge heating and cooling systems. This is a result of adopting a new technology in Milwaukee. New Land has used this technology in their concrete buildings.
Korb explained that the fluid-based system does not use ducts and its heavy equipment is located on Ascent's top six-story structure, instead of the parking garage.
Gokhman stated that the cooling system was also more efficient than previous ones.
He said, 'There is so much innovation in Ascent.
Gokhman added that the technology within the apartments is also "enterprise-level". This includes moisture sensors which send an alert to the management office when a pipe beneath a sink starts leaking.
Gokhman stated that it takes time to figure out which technologies and software work well together, as well as which hardware works best with your hardware. You have to do some research. It's a trial-and-error process, but it's also an investment.
700 E. Kilbourn Ave., Milwaukee