With $3 million up for grabs and a backing by the White House, it's no wonder the US Tall Wood Building Prize Competition has drawn a global audience.

The first batch of winners have been chosen in the climate-driven initiative, which was announced by the White House Rural Council and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last year. Leading architecture firms SHoP and LEVER will bring their winning wooden ambitions to life in New York and Portland,…