By Kate Snyder
In the heart of Oakland, a local developer is working on the construction of what is slated to become one of the tallest mass timber buildings in the world. The future 18-story building located at 1510 Webster will be, according to the project’s developer oWow, “the first of its kind and breadth to be built in the western United States.”
“What we’re doing with mass timber and sustainability is pioneering,” said Danny Haber, CEO and co-founder of oWow. “We have a standardized two-bedroom and one-bedroom and as much as possible are pre-fabricating the exterior facade.…and if we hit our targets, we are aiming to get this construction done in 16 months.”
The project will include 222 residential units with 15,000 square feet of ground floor retail. Of the total residential units, 13 units will be dedicated to very low income and 29 units will be dedicated to moderately-low income households, according to information from oWow. Upon completion, the structure will be the tallest mass plywood panel building in the world and the second tallest mass timber high rise in the U.S.
According to the developer, “1510 Webster is a perfect example of how President Joe Biden’s decarbonizing goals of the construction industry can be achieved.”
Another design feature is an open courtyard instead of a main lobby. The courtyard would be open to the public and would include retail space as well as a promenade, which Haber said would help to make the site a “unique destination.” He also emphasized that the inspiration for that kind of design comes from sites in South America, Italy, and cities in the southern United States as well as elements popularized by Ian Schrager, an entrepreneur and real estate developer who co-created the boutique hotel style of accommodation.
Haber specified also that the firm found a way to cut the cost of using mass timber over other materials through reducing time under construction and other construction-related costs, highlighting the decision to standardize the design and pre-fabricating the exterior. According to information from the firm, money saved will allow for the affordable rental rates to the workforce that lands between 80 percent and 120 percent of the average median income.
“Right now there will be a significant amount of [mass timber] projects that go forward because it is the cool buzzword of the day,” Haber said. “It’s highly sustainable, it’s ten times better for the environment than steel, but I think, truly for it to catch on and not just be a buzzword, it has to become cheaper than concrete and steel. And we found a way to do that, others have not, and I think that’s the issue today, the way most people are using mass timber, it’s more expensive than the alternative.”
1510 Webster is the result of a recent code adoption for tall mass timber in the U.S. According to DCI Engineers, which is providing structural design for the project, the International Code Council approved a set of proposals to allow tall wood buildings into the 2021 International Building Code. Heights that were included in the code change were nine stories at 85 feet, 12 stories at 180 feet and 18 stories at 270 feet. California adopted the code in 2021, according to state records.
“The housing crisis we are experiencing in California was decades in the making, and now we’re taking the steps needed to fix it,” Gavin Newsom, California governor, said in a released statement. “With historic investments and unprecedented actions, the state is supporting the creation of more affordable housing across California – projects like 1510 Webster Street in downtown Oakland, a highly sustainable building that targets the missing middle class which too often cannot find affordable housing near their jobs. We know that creating denser housing near jobs, parks and schools is key to meeting our climate goals as well as our affordability goals, and California will continue working to build more inclusive neighborhoods across the state.”