How Timber Construction is Transforming Australian Development

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The way projects are being delivered in Australia is rapidly changing with the emergence of mass timber, an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional structural systems.

Mass timber encompasses a suite of building elements that transform relatively low value timber feedstock into structural elements that have superior weight-to-strength performance than steel or concrete.

In addition, they can harness prefabricated technologies and systems to deliver millimetre accurate elements to site. The most common forms of mass timber currently in use are cross laminated timber (CLT), glue laminated timber (Glulam or GLT) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL).

The increased pace of adoption of mass timber is being fuelled by the recent changes to national construction code (NCC). The NCC streamlined approvals for mass timber structures up to eight-storeys.

There has also been a dramatic expansion of supply options for mass timber products, as both local and international suppliers strive to increase their presence in the Australian market.

Vistek structural engineers have been key players responsible for significant milestones in the mass timber space. They provided the mass timber structural design for the first building made from Australian manufactured CLT, and also for the largest mass timber vertical extension in the world — Bates Smart’s 55 Southbank.

Vistek’s general manager Robbie Svars shared his thoughts on the future of mass timber in Australia, and the opportunities it opens up for local developers both large and small.

What do developers need to know about mass timber?

Simply put, mass timber has arrived. It is a bona fide alternative option to conventional building. It is available to all scales of projects and, with proper planning, mass timber can deliver better commercial outcomes than conventional builds.

The cornerstone to this has been the opening of XLam’s CLT plant in Wodonga, near the border of Victoria and New South Wales. This plant is the equal of anything in Europe and has the capacity to supply the market with large volumes of high quality CLT.

The flow on effect of this is that major European players such as KLH and Stora Enso (and Glulam suppliers like Hess and Rubner) now have a solid business case for developing their presence locally to support Australian projects. This means Australian projects can have the assurance of several sources of CLT, as well as a genuinely competitive market place.

However, supply alone is not enough. Developers need a whole ecosystem to support the delivery of mass timber projects. This too is rapidly growing.

Design professionals across the industry are gaining expertise and valuable practical experience with every new mass timber project they complete. At Vistek we now have many mass timber projects under our belt, as do other required consultants such as fire and acoustic engineers.

There are now options in all the key design disciplines to build a team from a pool of professionals with significant experience working with mass timber to Australian requirements.

This is the case at the construction end of project delivery as well, where there are installers like Standstruct who specialise in mass timber projects.

Head contractors too, like Atelier who we are working with on 55 Southbank, are putting all the pieces together and incorporating other innovations such as bathroom pods to fully exploit the opportunities that mass timber can deliver.

The whole supply chain is now up and running, which means that it is the ideal time to move if mass timber has been on your radar.

Photo: Ceres house is an architecturally innovative building in rural Victoria. It was designed by architects level-ak in close collaboration with Vistek Engineers, Hyne Timber (Glulam supplier), and Xlam Australia (CLT supplier).

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Source: The Urban Developer

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