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Timber taking centre stage in Australia, with a great deal of style and flair.



Timber struts its stuff on stage


Concerts and community events have been taken to a whole new level in a Western Australian town, with a performance shell that showcases not only the acts performing, but cutting-edge timber design and engineering.


Opened in December 2011, the striking white curvilinear shell sits within a new theatre complex, part of a major redevelopment of the town centre of South Hedland.


The architectural concept of a timber-framed performance shell structure came from Patrick Beale, Principal of the Advanced Timber Concepts Research Centre (ATC), attached to the School of Architecture at the University of West Australia. A preliminary structural arrangement was developed in conjunction with structural engineer, Bill Smalley of Scott Smalley Partnership, in South Perth. Melbourne-based Timberbuilt was engaged to provide the specialised timber engineering expertise required to turn the design concept into a reality.


Working closely with the architectural team and Bill Smalley, Timberbuilt designed a structural system using laminated veneer lumber (LVL) manufactured by West Australian company, Wesbeam.


A shareholder in Australasian timber research consortium, The Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC), Wesbeam uses state-of-the-art equipment from New Zealand, Japan, Finland and Germany, to manufacture high quality laminated veneer lumber (LVL). For this project, Pinaster Pine was sourced from coastal plantations in the southern region of Western Australia.

With the Performance Shell structure located in wind Region D, it needed to be able to resist severe cyclonic wind loadings. LVL meets this demand, with its multiple laminated layers of peeled timber veneer making a structurally uniform and predictable material suited to high load critical applications.

The complex structure of the performance shell – comprising of a series of eight curvilinear segmented arch frames - was modelled by ATC and Timberbuilt using 3D modelling software. Machine data files were then fed into a Hundegger, CNC carpentry machine to manufacture each of the timber components.


Prefabrication took place at the Timberbuilt factory in Melbourne, and the components were trucked to site ready for assembly.


Then the real test came. In less than four days, this complex structure of 233 components, with a myriad of angles and little tolerance for inaccuracy, was erected on site. This was a vivid illustration of the construction efficiency, cost and time savings that can be achieved with prefabricated LVL. A further two days was required for installation of a specialised fibreglass membrane (PTFE), to protect the stage area from sun and rain, manufactured and supplied by MakMax Qld. (Toyo Membrane Corp).


Along with prefabricated, lightweight interiors, the stage ‘flats’ and exterior walls of the back stage facilities were constructed from locally sourced rammed earth, with a gently sloping grassed amphitheatre subtly forming the theatre’s seating area.


Timberbuilt Solutions Director and structural engineer Bruce Hutchings, believes this project is significant for a number of reasons.


“It really showcases the successful use of advanced design and fabrication technology, and the innovative structural and design engineering with LVL,” he says, “But I think the most significant thing is the use of building information management techniques and tools to take a complex architectural concept and transform it into precisely manufactured components.


“These were then able to be assembled efficiently and with a high degree of certainty, so that the required structural integrity has not been compromised by either the manufacture or installation processes.”


He says the structure has shown that timber is not just a craft material.


“It can be designed and fabricated with precision, and we have the technology to do that in Australasia now. The collaboration between the design and engineering teams has been particularly rewarding, and resulted in a unique, ground-breaking project, and a one-of-a-kind facility for the South Hedland community,” he says.


ATC Director Patrick Beale echoes these sentiments.

“Close collaboration between all members of the manufacturing and design teams blurred all traditional boundaries to produce an extremely efficient project that exactly reflects the models ATC and Timberbuilt were working from. It deviates in only one aspect - as a finished project it is even better than we imagined!”





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