Aurecon's expertise on Timber Buildings addresses the increasing trend toward engineered timber as a viable mass-scale complement to traditional materials.

Designing with timber for a sustainable outcome

Timber building design

Rising timber trends

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing trend toward engineered timber as a viable mass-scale complement to traditional materials such as concrete and steel. Recent examples include the world’s tallest timber building, Mjøstårnet by Voll Arkitekter in Brumunddal, Norway, and Australia’s tallest engineered timber building, 25 King, in Brisbane.

But is this timber trend merely a fad or does it herald the arrival of a new generation of mainstream construction material?

The benefits of timber

Advances in timber construction technology with Mass Engineered Timber (MET) materials such as cross laminated timber (CLT) and glue laminated timber (Glulam) and improved availability of these products has enhanced the supply options. Other benefits of timber are well documented, such as:

  • Research has shown that adding natural elements, such as timber, to our workplace environments is associated with increased feelings of wellbeing and higher productivity. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.
  • Being the only truly renewable mainstream building material, timber delivers sustainability and environmental benefits while sequestering carbon. 25 King achieves a saving of 74 per cent of embodied carbon over a traditionally constructed steel and concrete building.
  • Building with timber is faster, quieter and safer, and produces less waste. The prefabrication of elements off-site can reduce the time on-site by up to 50 per cent. Timber buildings do not require back-propping which means that facades can be constructed sooner, eliminating the need for scaffold, and allowing for the speedy first fix installation of services.
  • Timber is lighter than steel or concrete, making it the perfect choice where weight is an issue. For example, timber can be an enabler for Transport Oriented Developments (TODs) where buildings are constructed over tunnels and other transport infrastructure, in bad ground, or on top of existing buildings that are limited by the capacity of the original structure.
  • A prefabricated timber building requires a much smaller on-site workforce, making it a great choice for constrained sites where noise issues and congestion due to construction activity is an issue.
  • 8 per cent of global CO2 emissions are produced in cement making activities. Replacing concrete elements with timber reduces the global warming impact of construction. Giving due consideration to the carbon sequestered in timber buildings can contribute to a timber building becoming carbon positive. 

But is the momentum of building high-rise with timber products being hampered by perceptions of disadvantages such as fire rating requirements, durability, susceptibility to termites or moisture ingress and performance in terms of acoustics and vibration?

In reality, such issues can be effectively mitigated through good design and detailing practices, and a deep understanding and appreciation of how to effectively design and construct in timber.

Debunking myths about timber buildings

Myths still exist about timber’s inherent benefits. In this video, Aurecon's Senior Structural Engineer, Callum Lillywhite, debunks some of the myths on timber buildings. Learn more about the myths of timber buildings ›

Video summary: Aurecon engineers bust the myths on timber buildings

Aurecon senior structural engineers debunk the myths on timber buildings - from them not being fire resistant, to being susceptible to termites.

There is a growing trend towards using mass engineered timber (MET) for commercial as well as residential buildings, including high-rise, as a highly sustainable material that is good for the environment as well as the health and wellbeing of occupants. Using timber as a major construction material achieves a lower carbon footprint and enables a sense of wellbeing through biophilic design, that is, increasing occupant connectivity to the natural environment.

However, myths still exist about timber’s inherent benefits. In this video, Aurecon busts the myths on timber buildings:

Myth 1 – Timber isn’t fire resistant – one of the key properties of massive timber is that it is difficult to ignite and will char in a fire but leave sound timber underneath. It also burns at a predictable rate, allowing for the design of timber for a given fire event.

Myth 2 – Timber buildings aren’t termite resistant – large timber buildings are usually constructed on a concrete podium to create separation from the ground and no concealed entries to allow termites to enter. Timber can also be treated against insect attack and this is a key part of any strategy, and is in fact mandatory in some parts of the world.

Myth 3 – Timber isn’t sustainable – timber has a lower carbon footprint than traditional building materials. Trees actively sequester carbon from the atmosphere while growing, and when they are cut down for use as building materials, the carbon is ‘trapped’, unable to escape into the atmosphere as carbon emissions. Mass engineered timber can and should be sourced from sustainably-managed forests.

Myth 4 – Timber isn’t structurally sound – when the natural shrinkage and expansion of timber is appropriately considered in the design, timber performs well as a structural system. Where buildings are designed with timber cores (usually the main lateral load resisting system), diagonal timber bracing can be implemented to resist lateral loads while also providing an architectural feature.

Design experience is key

Timber is a different material to concrete and steel in that it has its own unique set of properties. Experience is required to design serviceable and durable buildings from timber and Aurecon is an industry-leader in the design and construction of timber buildings, having designed Australia’s tallest commercial and residential timber buildings, and others across ANZ and Asia over the past 35 years.

With so much uncertainty, how can organisations and employees prepare for what may or may not come next?

Learn more

Our difference

With experience in designing and managing the construction of commercial timber buildings around the world, Aurecon has built expertise that is invaluable in understanding the pros and cons of timber.

  • Human-centred approach: We take a human-centred and holistic approach to timber design – understanding the biophilic benefits of timber for end-user occupants
  • Managing the supply chain: We have deep connections with industry which helps in managing the supply chain of timber design and construction to unlock value
  • Understanding sustainability benefits: We understand, and can quantify the sustainability benefits of timber across the entire project lifecycle
  • Exploiting the aesthetics: We exploit the aesthetic benefits of timber to showcase this natural product at its best
  • ‘Fit for purpose’ hybrid designs: Our commitment to timber is not all-encompassing – we realise that sometimes hybrid designs are more ‘fit for purpose’
  • Investing in the future: We are investing in the future of timber manufacture through our research into the use of robotics in mass engineered timber construction

25 King Street – A visionary timber building

Putting people at the heart of our built environment has brought the design of Australia’s tallest and largest engineered timber office building to life. Watch this video to learn more about our Brisbane office, 25 King.

How we deliver

We deliver through collaboration and co-creation – understanding our clients’ challenges, prototyping, testing and refining to arrive at the best solutions – this is our Aurecon Methodology. We always ensure that working with us is enjoyable and rewarding for everyone – we call this the Aurecon experience.

  • Smart building technology: As early adopters of digital technologies, we bring the latest and most appropriate tools to the design and delivery of our clients’ projects, to ensure our leading-edge knowledge and experience is transferred to our clients and their projects. From creating a ‘digital twin’ of existing assets to better manage and understand maintenance and lifecycle needs, to using machine learning as part of a ‘smart building’ approach to analyse data to decrease energy usage and operational costs and enable better investment decision-making, we are at the forefront of engineering technology that can amplify business success.
  • Innovation: We use design-led thinking as a core methodology, backed by a mindset and Aurecon-proprietary toolkit for innovation. With our clients, we take a human-centred approach to co-create and deliver solutions focused on end-users, so that their ultimate experience is enhanced.
  • Eminence and expertise: We draw on a strong cohort of Aurecon leaders from around our business to provide the right team for each challenge. Our design leaders are nurtured through our own Design Academy and Masters programme, with a strong focus on encouraging and supporting diversity to enable innovation.

Why hasn’t industrialised construction disrupted the way we design and construct buildings?

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