Europe and North America have been hot on it for a while. And now timber is seeing a revival in Australasia, if a huge uptake in licencing for a locally-developed timber building innovation is anything to go by.
New Zealand-based Australasian research consortium, The Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC), was overwhelmed with the surge of interest in its EXPAN timber building system at road shows around Australia and New Zealand.
Initially developed at The University of Canterbury, the EXPAN post-tensioned laminated veneer lumber (LVL) (or glulam) building system offers strength, sustainability and superior seismic capabilities.
It’s an innovation that’s made it possible to construct long-span, multi-storey timber commercial buildings — for an equivalent cost to steel or concrete.
Following the road shows, STIC chief executive Rob Finch has had more than 260 companies across Australasia sign up for the EXPAN design and installation, and fabricators licences. And more are coming on board each week.
“People have always loved timber. Design professionals love that it’s a natural product, it’s sustainable, with a warmth to it you don’t get with other materials,” Dr Finch says.
“Thanks to LVL and glulam technology, it can now hold its own against steel and concrete as a viable alternative for commercial buildings. It’s opening up exciting design possibilities as architects realise timber is a real option, and not just a nice idea any more.”
Dr Finch says there’s a strong correlation between the interest they’ve seen from licensees, and global building trends. Timber is certainly riding the wave of the global movement to build green.
“Sustainability and a lowered environmental footprint are the main drivers behind the renaissance of timber in Europe.
“And we’re getting there in New Zealand now too, as building owners and designers progressively realise that engineered timber provides a technically and commercially viable building with a low carbon footprint.”
There are now seven EXPAN buildings in New Zealand, including Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s new Arts and Media Building, and BRANZ’s Nikau Building.
Timber in Christchurch rebuild
And timber is set to play a role in the Christchurch rebuild, with two commercial buildings due for construction using the EXPAN system, and avid interest from many more involved in rebuild projects.
The Christchurch timber buildings will be hugely significant examples of cutting-edge seismic design, and damage avoidance technology, Dr Finch says.
“Commercial property owners, and insurers, are now demanding buildings that are not only safe in a major event, but can be rapidly reoccupied afterwards, therefore minimising business interruption.
“Seismic capabilities are certainly top of mind for building owners in New Zealand now.”
Jasper van der Lingen, the architect behind one of the EXPAN buildings soon to be constructed in central Christchurch, has enjoyed exploring the design opportunities the technology enables.
“I always knew we could do a very stylish building using this innovation. With exposed timber beams, the building has a very warm feel — very different from your standard office fit-out.
“We’re using as much glass as possible so you can look in and see the timber visible. It’s been a really exciting project to be involved in. We’re really looking forward to seeing it go up.”
And he sees a big future in wooden building technology.
“I think this technology is very special to New Zealand — after all, we are a timber country. It’s fantastic to be able to use a local, sustainable resource, and locally-developed technology, to design a unique looking, long-span commercial building that’s not been possible here before.”