Oakwood Tower by PLP Architects. Image courtesy of PLP

Will this wooden supertall rise above London?

The world’s tallest timber structure has been proposed for the iconic brutalist Barbican estate

A British architecture practice believes that this wooden tower would make a great addition to London’s Barbican housing estate. PLP Architects’ proposed Oakwood Tower is 300m tall -  about the same height as the New York Times Building. If granted planning permission, it would be the tallest timber building in the world, and the second tallest tower in London, dwarfed only by Renzo Piano’s Shard, just south of the river.

PLP’s intention is to fill the wood-frame building with 1000 residential units, some with terraces. This would substantially increase the population of the Brutalist Barbican, which was designed in the 1950s by UK firm Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, and built in the following two decades. It already houses around 4,000 people in its existing 2,014 flats.

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Oakwood Tower by PLP Architects. Image courtesy of PLP
Oakwood Tower by PLP Architects. Image courtesy of PLP

PLP Architects’ newfound appreciation of timber buildings is shared by many others in the profession. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto worked on this wooden residential development proposal for Bordeaux. Behnisch Architekten created a wooden conference hall in Geneva, and Thistleton Waugh’s nine-storey Stadthaus in London was the tallest modern timber structure in the world at the time of its completion in 2009 at just 30 metres high.

"The use of timber could transform the way we build in this city," says PLP partner Kevin Flanagan. “Timber buildings have the potential architecturally to create a more pleasing, relaxed, sociable and creative urban experience.” Oakwood Tower would also offer a contrast to the Barbican’s many acres of concrete.

PLP, which was formed when its founders broke away from their former practice Kohn Pedersen Fox Architects, is riding the wave of not one but two emerging trends. As well as timber, it is involved with the nascent ‘co-living’ phenomenon. The Collective, a complex of micro-homes modelled on student accommodation, opens in London next month.


Oakwood Tower by PLP Architects. Image courtesy of PLP
Oakwood Tower by PLP Architects. Image courtesy of PLP

For more on tiny architectural developments get a copy of Nanotecture; for a better grounding in Brutalism get This Brutal World; and for more on an innovative contemporary architects working with this age-old material order our new Sou Fujimoto book.