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Is this timber's time? The answer in Australia seems to be a resounding YES.

Australia’s time for timber

Europe and North America has been hot on it for a while now. And now timber structures are seeing a renaissance in Australia. So what’s behind the comeback? We get the lowdown from Chris Ward, a structural engineer who heads up Tasmanian Timber Engineering - one of Australia’s leading manufacturers and fabricators of engineered wood products.

Rising steel costs have worked in timber’s favour, along with engineered timber products that cut construction time, and make timber a competitive alternative to concrete and steel.

Innovations in timber building technology have gone a long way in boosting the profile of timber, and encouraging its use, Chris says. In the Northern Hemisphere, Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) has had an enormous impact on the acceptability of timber structures since its development in Europe  in the early 1990s. Made from multiple layers of wood, it gives structural integrity, while prefabrication reduces labour and construction costs, making timber building cost-competitive.


Growth in green building practices in that part of the world have also contributed to the popularity of CLT and other engineered timber products, as they offer sustainability and environmental performance, and carbon-storage rewards. Some countries with a keen green awareness have even gone so far as to instil timber mandates. In British Columbia, its ‘Wood First’ policy means wood is to be considered as the primary building material in all new public buildings.


And this acceptability of timber through CLT has filtered down to Australia, Chris says.

“CLT lifted the acceptability of timber as a whole,” he says, “It’s a very good product, very economical and reliable, and it’s won quite a lot of market.”


Other technology that’s proving instrumental in growing the use of timber in building includes joining technologies, such as tools and glues, and Laminated Timber Veneer (LVL) products.


“The Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC) and the EXPAN products are part of that. It’s technology that eliminates the disadvantages of working with timber, and drives the benefits of timber in the right direction. It gives us another important lever we can use to drive accessibility to timber .”


Each of these factors have driven the renaissance of timber, and each empower the other, Chris says.

“I believe we are going to see incredible, growing  imperatives in favour of timber building, I feel very positive about it all. These drivers are going to become stronger and stronger, it’s exciting to be part of.”


And Tasmanian Timber Engineering has been proud to be part of a stunning new timber structure going up near the nation’s capital. Where better to have a beautiful showcase of timber building than a place dedicated to tree plantings? Not far from Canberra, the National Arboretum is a living display of threatened and symbolic trees from around Australia and the world, along with shrubs and herbaceous plants for study, conservation and preservation.


Soon, a Visitor Centre will open onsite, a timber structure that features a series of 10 arches fanning out at angles, each rib a different length and radius. These range up to 55 metres in length, supported with huge timber struts.


“It’s going to be a very special building,” Chris says, “Big dimensions, and a beautiful example of what is now possible with timber engineering .”


“I believe we are going to see incredible, growing imperatives in favour of timber building, I feel very positive about it all. These drivers are going to become stronger and stronger, it’s exciting to be part of.”


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