The com­pelling ben­e­fits and chal­lenges of tim­ber con­struc­tion

Australasian Timber - - NEWS - By John Halkett Gen­eral Man­ager, Aus­tralian Tim­ber Im­porters Fed­er­a­tion

THE DO­MES­TIC build­ing and con­struc­tion sec­tor in Aus­tralia’s largest cities con­tin­ues to be in a boom phase, driven mostly by new apart­ment de­vel­op­ments rather than tra­di­tional de­tached homes. Ad­di­tion­ally, new hous­ing is mov­ing in to­wards city cen­tres and de­vel­op­ment hubs.

Higher den­sity hous­ing rep­re­sents a ma­jor tran­si­tion in the way Aus­tralians live in cities, with po­ten­tially about one mil­lion new homes be­ing added to the hous­ing stock in the next three decades through ur­ban re­newal and in­fill in Syd­ney, Mel­bourne and Bris­bane alone.

One ma­jor trend ob­served in the cur­rent apart­ment boom is the growth of tim­ber mid-rise build­ings that are able to take ad­van­tage of tim­ber’s dex­ter­ity as a build­ing ma­te­rial as well as its strong en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials. Whether it’s the nat­u­ral aes­thetic at­tributes, engi­neer­ing prop­er­ties, dura­bil­ity or car­bon se­ques­ter­ing cre­den­tials, tim­ber is gain­ing trac­tion as the build­ing ma­te­rial of the 21st cen­tury.

Tim­ber is also a lighter ma­te­rial al­low­ing ease of han­dling on­site – this is an­other com­pelling rea­son for choos­ing tim­ber con­struc­tion, es­pe­cially in dense cities, where con­di­tions are fre­quently re­strained and space is limited. Tim­ber can help man­age a site bet­ter with less noise, mess and dust, and more safety. An im­por­tant ad­van­tage of tim­ber con­struc­tion is that the build­ing can be up in a mat­ter of weeks.

But is the do­mes­tic tim­ber prod­ucts in­dus­try pre­pared to meet the de­mand? Though build­ing and con­struc­tion re­main buoy­ant and tim­ber de­mand is strong, the other side of the ledger shows do­mes­tic sup­ply ca­pac­ity flat-lin­ing at best. Thank­fully for the build­ing and the con­struc­tion sec­tor, im­ported tim­ber prod­ucts are, and will con­tinue to fill this widen­ing de­mand­sup­ply gap.

Without tim­ber im­porters do­ing the heavy lift­ing, house con­struc­tion tar­gets would not have been achieved and the 26,000 im­ported tim­ber prod­uct-linked jobs, es­ti­mated by the Hous­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion, and the con­struc­tion and build­ing sec­tor would be un­der se­ri­ous threat.

An­other pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment is the ini­tia­tive taken by For­est and

Wood Prod­ucts Aus­tralia to have the Na­tional Con­struc­tion Code (NCC) amended to al­low tim­ber build­ings to push up to eight storeys or 25 me­tres. Though this will in­crease pres­sure on the sup­ply side for the tim­ber in­dus­try, it’s cer­tainly a wel­come de­vel­op­ment. Some mid-rise tim­ber tow­ers have al­ready been erected, oth­ers are un­der con­struc­tion and a good num­ber are at the de­sign stage.

Ar­chi­tects, de­vel­op­ers, de­sign­ers, en­gi­neers, and builders have wel­comed changes to the NCC that ap­ply to both tra­di­tional tim­ber fram­ing and in­no­va­tive mass tim­ber sys­tems – such as cross-lam­i­nated tim­ber (CLT), which com­prises of mul­ti­ple lay­ers of wood glued to­gether at right an­gles un­der high pres­sure to form the large wall, ceil­ing, and floor pan­els, and glu­lam, which is pro­duced by lam­i­nat­ing a num­ber of smaller pieces of tim­ber to­gether to form a sin­gle large, strong, struc­tural com­po­nent. Used as ver­ti­cal col­umns or hor­i­zon­tal beams, as well as curved, arched shapes, glu­lam is avail­able in a range of species and ap­pear­ance char­ac­ter­is­tics.

The NCC changes will al­low ar­chi­tects to ex­plore and demon­strate the po­ten­tial of en­gi­neered tim­ber, while also in­creas­ing the use of tra­di­tional tim­ber fram­ing. Ul­ti­mately, the code change will mean quicker, more cost ef­fec­tive and en­vi­ron­men­tally-friend­lier con­struc­tion of res­i­den­tial apart­ments, of­fice blocks and ho­tel build­ings.

How­ever, cross lam­i­nated tim­ber, glu­lam, pre­fab­ri­cated floor­ing and other ad­vanced en­gi­neered tim­ber prod­ucts that al­low the in­dus­try to take ad­van­tage of the mid-rise build­ing code amend­ments are not man­u­fac­tured in Aus­tralia. They are im­ported by Aus­tralian Tim­ber Im­porters Fed­er­a­tion mem­bers. There’s no doubt tim­ber prod­uct im­porters are mak­ing a ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion to the build­ing and con­struc­tion sec­tor, and to the tim­ber prod­uct sup­ply chain. Tim­ber im­ports will con­tinue to drive the avail­abil­ity of so­phis­ti­cated en­gi­neered wood prod­ucts that will fa­cil­i­tate both the pre­dicted strength­en­ing of the res­i­den­tial new hous­ing mar­ket and the mo­men­tum of mid-rise build­ing con­struc­tion.

Aus­tralia’s first CLT man­u­fac­tur­ing plant will be op­er­a­tional this year and is ex­pected to be one of the most tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced plants world­wide. For the first time, projects will be able to use a CLT prod­uct that is de­signed and made in Aus­tralia from Aus­tralian tim­ber.

In­ter­na­tional House, Sydney. Photo: Lend Lease

In­te­rior mid-rise CLT con­structed apart­ment. Photo: Christoph Kul­terer, proHolz Aus­tria

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