Tall timber buildings are exciting, but to shrink construction’s carbon footprint we need to focus on the less sexy ‘middle’

1 Sep 2022

Developer Thrive Construct recently announced the world’s tallest steel-timber hotel to be built at Victoria Square, Adelaide. Australia has caught onto the trend of building taller in timber, with other plans for three buildings 180-220 metres high submitted in Perth and Sydney. These would more than double the current world record for a timber building.

Tall timber buildings, made entirely of mass timber (layers of wood bonded together) or steel-timber and timber-concrete hybrid construction, are gaining popularity worldwide. Every couple of months a yet taller timber building seems to pop up somewhere. My colleagues and I joke that we have stopped trying to keep up.

Timber is a sustainable, renewable material that stores carbon while in use, and the appeal of using it in skyscrapers is clear. But I worry that focusing only on the tall means we overlook the “middle”: apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and shopping centres. Buildings like these are dominated by concrete, steel and brick, all of which are carbon- or energy-intensive materials.

The “middle” is not sexy, and probably won’t make the news, but it’s where timber construction can have a significant sustainability impact.

2017 study found Australia’s construction sector is responsible for 18% of the country’s carbon footprint. Current emissions are expected to double by 2050 if we don’t change the way we build.

Change is challenging. Developers and designers favour familiar construction materials and methods where cost estimates are straightforward. Timber requires a change of thinking and early contractor involvement to be cost-competitive.

But if we truly want to do something about our nation’s carbon footprint, the whole construction industry urgently needs to shift, with Australian government support, towards renewable, low-carbon construction materials and methods. This means to build with timber if we can, use steel and concrete if we must.

Read the full article at The Conversation