Toothpick London Skyscraper

A wooden skyscraper for London? Yes! Architects are hailing the material as the new steel, feting the arrival of the so-called timber age. To a layperson like us, a timber tower in a metropolis sounds exotic.


Why wood? The team of architects made up of PLP, Smith and Wallwork, and Cambridge University’s Centre for Natural Material say in their proposal that the choice is more sustainable, since wood is a renewable resource. Plus, it reduces the structure’s weight, costs less, builds faster, and offers more attractive residential living to inhabitants.

Oakwood Tower River - Daytime

At eight stories high and 300 meters tall (circa 984 feet), this addition to the city’s Barbican estate (dating from the 1960s and ’70s) would feature 1,000 low-cost residential for people to enjoy a “more pleasing, relaxed, sociable and creative urban experience” for example, it would also incorporate rooftop gardens to create greenspace. The concept is part of plans for a 1-million-square-foot mixed-use development. A 14-story tower in Bergen Norway, currently holds the record as the tallest timber high-rise. The Barbican tower would not only surpass that building but also be London’s second tallest building.

Oakwood Tower Barbican View

The team said that historically, many famous buildings in London were made of timber, so the idea isn’t exactly novel. Still it would be a “major innovation.” Dr. Michael Ramage, Director of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation stated: “We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers. The fundamental premise is that timber and other natural materials are vastly underused and we do not give them nearly enough credit. Nearly every historic building, from King’s College Chapel to Westminster Hall, has made extensive use of timber.”

London timber high rise

Another positive-sounding statement came via Simon Smith of Smith and Wallwork engineers: “Timber is our only renewable construction material and in its modern engineered form it can work alongside steel and concrete to extend and regenerate our cities. It is only a matter of time until the first timber skyscraper is built.”

Worried about the “Toothpick” being a fire hazard? The visionaries assure that strict regulations would by far exceed existing ones.