Timber Makes A Comeback In Construction


Wood was once the primary material used in construction, from the tiniest cabin to the tallest cathedrals. But all of that changed in 1885, when the first modern-day skyscraper was built. The 10-storey Home Insurance Building in Chicago was produced using steel frames.

Image result for The 10-storey Home Insurance Building in Chicago
Home Insurance Building in Chicago (Source: Pinterest)

Ever since then, steel was used in place of timber as the main load-bearing material in large buildings, i.e. anything bigger than a one or two story house. But as architects and builders world-wide grow increasingly conscious of their environmental impact, they’ve returned to using timber in the production of large buildings.

Over the past ten years, all-timber buildings have been going up around the world and in Australia too. Presently, there are over 50 commercial or residential all-timber towers either under constriction or recently erected in Australia. These include the architecturally acclaimed International House in Sydney, the Library at the Dock in Melbourne, and the the tallest all-wood office tower in the world, 25 King Street in Brisbane.

International House Sydney
International House in Sydney (Source: woodsolutions.com.au)

Timber skyscrapers have been made possible by “mass engineered timber.” This is timber beams and sheeting that are manufactured by a process of lamination or layering, which lends them more strength compared to previous timber products.

Timber skyscrapers have been made possible by “mass engineered timber.” This is timber beams and sheeting that are manufactured by a process of lamination or layering, which lends them more strength compared to previous timber products.

World’s largest Engineered Timber Office Building, 25 King Street Brisbane (Source: Brisbane Development)

Timber towers use two types of mass engineered timber products including glue-laminated timber (or glulam) which is used for support and framing, and cross-laminated timber (or CLT) which is used for the flooring and wall sheeting.

Buildings made from mass engineered timber go up in less time because engineered timber is prefabricated and precision-cut. That means it can come out of storage and gets bolted together on site, minimising time spent on site, labour costs, waste and improving safety.

Not only is timber seen as an increasingly efficient building material, it offers an environmentally friendly alternative to steel and concrete.

Less CO2 is used to produce and transport timber, and trees grown to produce the timber products remove carbon from the atmosphere. Timber products can then store carbon for thousands of years, as seen in the world’s oldest timber building, Horyuji temple in Japan, which has been storing carbon for 1,300 years.

Engineered timber is also made using environmentally friendly, non-toxic adhesives, and while timber is a combustible material, mass engineered timber is actually hard to burn.

As more timber towers go up in Australia, it’s time we take a closer look at the building potential of timber.

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