Mass Timber Status in Australia

14 March 2023

When it came to mass timber, Australia was ahead of the world pack ten years ago. We had the tallest mass timber buildings for several years, some of the very first open-planned office buildings. So much so, we were doing more in timber than New Zealanders were, our cousin who always seems to beat us when it comes to timber use (don’t mention the rugby). However, during the COVID-19 lockdown, we seemed to have caught long COVID-19 and have been in the grips of a mass timber slowdown. 

But I am glad to inform you that we are over our long COVID and back with a vengeance. The number and types of mass timber buildings have expanded in the last twelve months. Notably, the size and height of some proposed buildings are astonishing. 

Before the mass timber revolution occurred, it was exciting if someone mentioned a four-storey in timber or a roof over a pool building. But if you said to me, “in 10 years’ time, the world would have over 80 buildings, eight storeys or higher (built)”; I would have been rolling around on the floor laughing. Now, I don’t think there is a limit to mass timber use, gauging what is happening in Australia in mass timber design. 

Australia is heading in two directions: very, very high and very low buildings. The first direction is the 20, 30, 40 and now 50-storey building with substantial amounts of structural timber being used. I have deliberately not said they are timber buildings, as they aren’t. They are concrete or steel buildings with components of structural timber. The building includes Atlassian in Sydney, a 40-storey building that is currently under construction. Interestingly, it is a concrete and steel shell with eight four-storey timber buildings inside it. Great thinking; give the team a gold star!

Designed by architects SHoP and BVN, the tower will combine mass timber elements, a steel “exoskeleton”, and a glass facade that will generate electricity (Images courtesy of Dexus)

The other is in Perth, a  183 m high residential building aptly titled C6, i.e. carbon’s atomic number. Designed by Fraser & Partners, C6 will be constructed using approximately 7,400 m3 of timber leveraging Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL). Where ever possible, timber is being used to replace energy-intensive building materials. Again, it’s not a timber building, but timber is being incorporated into it. But isn’t that the point? With the climate emergency, we should be thinking about using less energy-intensive materials like timber wherever we can. Of course, other materials may eventually become low energy–intensive, but timber has one advantage: its benefits are when we need it the most – now. Not in 50 years because that will be too late.

Image: Fraser & Partners

So again, give the project team a gold star.

The other direction is low-rise structures. There have been several exhilarating structures, like the Eric Tweedale Stadium. A mass timber roof structure with a massive 8.0 m double cantilever. It also won the 2021 Australia Timber Design Awards. The first of its kind and a good role model for the Brisbane Olympics planned for 2023.

Eric Tweedale Stadium / dwp | ArchDaily

Design by DWP architects Image: Brett Boardman

Another building that is currently under construction is Upper House Brisbane. Koichi Takada Architects designed the building as a dramatic 20-storey concrete building with a wooden crown. The wooden crown is an exciting double curvature structure covering a wellness centre for the building occupants. Another stunning structure that I am immensely waiting for its completion. Hand out those gold stars again. 

Image: Koichi Takada Architects

So in closing, we might not be the best at rugby, but we are no strangers to pushing the envelope of mass timber design. So come and see what we are up to. 

Andrew Dunn

CEO Timber Development Association 

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