Could engineered timber be the building material of the future?

2 Mar 2018

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With Brisbane set to boast the world’s tallest commercial timber building and demand for the material growing, our concrete jungles could eventually give way to more natural city skylines.

When it is completed later this year, the 45 m Lendlease 25 King project is expected to be the tallest commercial timber building in the world.

“The fascinating thing about building with timber is that its strength is akin to concrete and steel, it can be produced economically in a factory environment and most importantly boasts a plethora of sustainability benefits,” said Lendlease General Manager Tony Orazio.

According to Dr Robert Foster from University of Queensland’s (UQ) Future Timber Hub, engineered timber is a quicker, cleaner construction material than steel or concrete. It is also renewable, and can be used as biomass fuel at the end of its life.

Australian trends

Last year, Lendlease completed the nation’s first engineered timber office at International House Sydney. This structure took less than a year to build, from 1750 pieces of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and over 20,000 screws.

The company has also used engineered timber in other structures, including Melbourne’s Library at the Dock and Forte Apartments, as well as the Jordan Springs Community Hub in NSW.

Off-site construction company Strongbuild said that demand for prefabricated components including CLT is exceeding local supply. Last year, Strongbuild supplied $5 million worth of prefabricated CLT for a multi-storey luxury retirement village, and timber panels for an affordable housing project in NSW.

According to Orazio, a key element of 25 King’s design is the use of prefabricated modules for each floor.

Foster said that an advantage of using engineered timber for sophisticated digital prefabrication is that the production process is already largely automated, so relatively complex shapes and cutting patterns can be integrated with little additional cost.

“These approaches are already being used to achieve high levels of prefabrication – which can have huge benefits in terms of quality control, speed of construction and safety on site,” he said.

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