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How do we capitalise on the popularity of tall timber buildings?

Mid-sized apartment buildings, hospitals, schools and shopping centres are dominated by carbon or energy-intensive materials such as concrete, steel and brick. This needs to change, according to Dr Lisa Ottenhaus, a lecturer in Structural Timber Engineering at the University of Queensland, who shares her insights on the topic in a thoughtful piece in The Conversation.

While mass timber is an increasingly popular material option for the construction of taller structures among Australia’s design and build professionals, we are yet to see the same level of uptake in mid-sized building projects.

“Australia has caught onto the trend of building taller with timber, with plans for three buildings of 180 to 220 metres in height submitted in Perth and Sydney. But I worry that focusing only on the tall means we overlook the ‘middle’,” Dr Ottenhaus explains.

Using timber for building construction is widely accepted as a great step forward for the climate, since it’s a sustainable, renewable and carbon storing material. But Dr Ottenhaus has concerns that because the construction of buildings like apartments and shopping centres – aka ‘the middle’ – won’t make the news, the positive trend may not become widespread.

Dr Ottenhaus’ research focusses on tall timber structures, with a PhD focusing on the seismic design of connections in tall timber buildings, and acknowledges that using these materials is an art. But, she says, it’s an art worth mastering if we are to lessen the impact of construction on the environment.

Citing a 2011 report from FWPA reflecting on how multi-residential, educational and office buildings have the biggest potential for building with timber, Dr Ottenhaus’ take on the future of timber is best summed up in her suggestion that we never “stop dreaming tall” but still “focus on the missing middle to make construction sustainable.”

Source: The Conversation

Posted Date: December 8, 2022

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