As the construction boom continues apace and the value management workshops run through the inevitable deletion of landscaping, the search is seemingly still on for the solutions to our need to build faster and cheaper. Well get this, (spoiler alert) a possible solution has been around longer than we have. It’s timber. Or more specifically, the cross laminated version of it.Okaaaaaaaay. So, why so little timber high-rise then? The ‘old school’ thinkers can skip to the last line*
Good question and I can hear you now. - “Fire! Durability! Fire! Insurance! Financing! Strength! Supply! Fire! Cost! Risk! Infestation! Rot! Aesthetics! Fire! Fire! Fire!”
This humble QS may be an unlikely supporter of timber construction, especially a QS who is under 300 years old, but I’ve done the research (so you don’t have to) and all of the above concerns can be - and indeed have been - addressed through extensive design. You haven’t come across this research? Have you looked? I did and it’s pretty interesting stuff.
I won’t be boring you with the references and details here but needless to say that all the concerns raised in bold above have been dealt with. Really – and if you want more detailed assurances just get in touch. My details are below.
My personal belief as to why timber hasn’t quite taken over the construction industry yet is more related to history than science though. Sat in the classroom and hearing those dramatic stories of the fires that levelled London in 1666 and Chicago in 1871 have (I think) had a far more profound effect on our psyche than we realise. I’ll bet the authors of the modern building codes would concede this. Or maybe they wouldn’t but that’s precisely the point. The perceptions of timber are deep rooted in our subconscious and we’re too busy (or too lazy) to challenge them. The fact that steel and concrete are so prevalent in the construction landscape - and have been for so long – should not be a reason to avoid seeking better solutions should it? I mean *Celine Dion sells more records than the Rolling Stones but who would you prefer singing at your birthday? Yes like timber they’re still out there, God Bless em - No offence to any Celine fans in the industry. But the perception that timber construction presents risks, while concrete and steel do not, is of course utter rubbish. Again contact me if you want more substantive analysis. The aim here is not to bore you.
One of the great advantages of CLT is its speed of construction. The panels are made to measure in the factory, complete with openings for doors and windows. This means that lead-in times are possibly longer but my guess is that they won’t be for much longer (and trust me I’m a QS) – so yeah there may a little lag in getting the panels to site - but after that, things move fast.
And to back up my claims I even have a couple of living and breathing CLT projects to validate my enthusiasm. Yes, real life CLT buildings (Currently approaching a start on site).
And the progressive source that encouraged my timber enthusiasm? Yes you guessed it, the all-conquering, technology busting, boldy pioneering, erm, Affordable Housing Sector. A little while ago a very smart community housing provider client of mine proposed CLT as a design option for a large multi storey residential project that had a struggling feasibility. My initial reaction was caution as the methodology was largely untested in Australia. We did however offer to work through the alleged challenges via research. And sure enough the more we spoke to builders and developers and architects and engineers and manufacturers and tradesman who had worked with CLT, the more it became abundantly clear that there were way more benefits than problems in using timber to construct multi storey buildings. To cut a long story we included in our tender documents, an option for the contractors to offer a price for CLT.
And guess what? And here’s the zinger for the twitter generation.
*The CLT tender came in cheapest and fastest. Really. We now have multiple CLT projects at various stages of evolution in our office. Production facilities are being set up right now in your backyard. Are you ready?
Richard Smith - October 2015
Richard Smith has zero influence in the timber industry and did not receive any money nor gifts for writing this article. 90% of his current and brilliant projects are constructed of concrete and steel. Last year it was 100%. He can be reached via - firstname.lastname@example.org