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Melbourne's Forte building construction is underway.


Tall Stories from Australia


It’s tall, green and handsome, and it’s set to become a leader in environmental building design and high-rise engineered timber building in Australia.


With construction well underway on the 10-storey Forté building in Melbourne’s Victoria Harbour, we get a snapshot of timber construction in Australia, from one of the country’s foremost structural timber engineers, Richard Hough. A Principal and Structural Engineer in the Sydney office of global design group Arup, Richard’s been involved in many of the company’s timber projects, and previously worked in Arup’s London and LA offices.


Richard says he’s watching with interest how the Australian Government’s new Carbon Pricing Scheme will impact the use of different building materials.


“It’s a well thought-out scheme, which in the long-term will have the effect of favouring products and processes that are less polluting - timber has strong green credentials so should benefit from the scheme.”


He says building green is still pretty much a voluntary thing in Australia.


“We have the Green Star scheme, and slowly there are some mandatory requirements beginning to appear, but we’re still well short of the level of legislation you see in Europe on energy consumption for example. Hopefully the Carbon Pricing Scheme will help push things along that road.”


He says there is definitely renewed interest in timber in Australia, as there is in many countries.


“There are various drivers behind that, one is the excess plantation capacity worldwide that’s keeping a downward pressure on the price of the resource. The speed of construction is appealing, particularly at a time when credit markets are very tight, so the time value of money is very significant.


“The growth of BIM (building information modelling), CNC (computer numerical control), off-site working and more automated manufacture is finally arriving, partly because of developments in software and computer-based processes. There’s no material better suited to those processes than timber.”


And as cities look to densify and control their spread, three to five-storey blocks of apartments become much more relevant, he says.


“That’s the market that the Australian timber industry would like to take a larger share of. And that’s where pre-fabricated panel products, particularly things like cross laminated timber and timber concrete composite panels, are going to be important, because they offer a construction system that suits that building type. So we’re beginning to see things happening, like Lend Lease building the Forte Tower, the world’s tallest timber apartment building right now in Melbourne.”


Richard says he’s excited to see the push by the timber engineering industry to get more involved in multi-storey residential, and commercial.


“Arup is working on several schemes for office buildings of various heights in timber, using big beams and columns in LVL and other laminated products. These projects make good use of some of the excellent research that’s been going on between Australia and New Zealand in recent years, particularly the STIC work. That’s been especially helpful for timber office building schemes, because it focuses on frames and big elements.”


And pioneering developers are paving the way for timber, he says.


“Lend Lease for example has quite a remarkable tradition of innovation, and a long view of their role in the market. They have introduced many new technologies into the Australian market, and have now become interested in multi-storey timber construction.”


And with Lend Lease’s Australian CEO, Mark Menhinnitt stating that 30-50% of their residential projects in the pipeline could be executed in CLT – as well as educational, community and commercial buildings – it’s very much a case of watch this space in the land of green and gold.


We chatted with Richard at the WCTE in Auckland.



Forté Building

facts and figures


Will house 23 apartments, and four townhouses

- Aims to be Australia’s first five-star Green Star residential building.

- Use of CLT will reduce carbon emissions by more than 1,400 tonnes, compared with building in concrete and steel

- Apartments will require 25% less energy to heat and cool than a similar apartment built in concrete and steel.

- Due for completion October 2012


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