Building in wood - ironing out the issues
Strong, natural, green and good looking…there’s no denying the benefits of building in timber. But like any material, it also has its challenges. So how are the collective of researchers, suppliers, engineers and designers around the world doing in finding solutions to these challenges? We asked the question of two key industry folk from both sides of the Tasman.
“Doing brilliantly,” says Sydney-based Arup Principal Structural Engineer Richard Hough.
“The World Conference on Timber Engineering is great evidence of the progress, enthusiasm and investment in the technological developments, technical solutions and engineering advances in building in timber. I think we’re well across that.”
However, Richard – one of Australia’s leading timber engineers - says more time, effort and investment needs to go into closing some of the gaps in the supply chain.
“Particularly between designers and fabricators who need to adopt some of the new technologies and techniques. This is often constrained because of investment problems, and then suppliers who may stand back, and not get involved in the fabrication front end.”
“So there are gaps that mean clients get concerned about the reliability of the timber supply chain, and that’s where we need to put some work in. I think this will get better, because we will see more multi-storey timber construction, both residential and commercial, which will give people more confidence.”
New Zealand is doing a terrific job in this arena, he says.
“There are some great prototype projects going ahead. I’d love to see some more of that in Australia. Arup is trying to assemble consortia that can deliver in a design construct environment. We’ve just completed design of three seven-storey apartment buildings for a Sydney site, with an architect, quantity surveyor, supplier, project manager, and a client who is interested in the prospect of timber. We expect that job to go to tender soon, and hope we’ve closed the gaps in that supply chain to see the project delivered.”
Richard believes things have moved fast thanks to the work of The Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC).
“New Zealand is a small country that continues to surprise, it is extraordinary how innovative the place is for its size. I think the industry partners in The Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC) are getting an excellent research product that is pragmatic, and market ready, compared to a lot of research that tends to be further upstream, or theoretical.”
Finding solutions to the issue of span has been a crucial development, says Graeme Beattie, Principal Structural Engineer at BRANZ.
“It was a big issue for a long time that you could only get long spans with glue laminated timber, sawn timber was either too flexible or too weak. Now, engineered timber products like LVL and CLT enable big open areas.”
Work around fire resistance has also been key, he says.