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BACK TO THE WOODS Featured
08 May 2017 Posted by 

BACK TO THE WOODS

Timber: the desirable building material
By Professor Edward Blakely
TELL me it is true? A 10-story timber residential building is being constructed in Melbourne.
Well, it is Melbourne, and we know crazy things are done there. But maybe this isn’t so crazy.
 
Timber is one of the most widely used building materials in the world. We want to think of wood as an add-on material to make a place appear soft and warm. But timber has more qualities than that and timber is a renewable resource. 
 
While there are scarcities of forest timber, we can grow buildable timber in regions of old growth forest and replenish the supplies with new forms of timber relatively quickly.
 
In fact, it would be cheaper and faster to build with renewable than to try to find new sources of concrete and related materials close to urban centres. 
 
We are fast losing our urban sand and other cement making resources. And we need trees in our cities and to regrow trees after our bushfires. By replanting trees, we’re doing a great deal for the environment. 
 
So, trees can become not just a resource for shade on hot days but a better, smarter and more useful building material. Not only do trees provide a renewable resource they also make more handsome and better-looking buildings.
 
Why use wood?
 
Timber uses up less carbon in construction than steel or concrete. It is a flexible material, so it allows for buildings to be built in a much more attractive fashion. 
 
Most of us are very tired of buildings that are built like block houses: square with no redeeming artistic features. The reason for this is that it is easier to form cement and steel into square or rectangular outcomes. Timber is far more malleable. 
 
Thus, you can have a building that looks and performs like a good-looking structure-not a block house. Since wood is a soft material, it blends in well with the interior finishing of the building allowing for better walls and floors. 
 
This construction since it can be modular is usually much cheaper and faster than concrete or steel construction. Even though the construction is modular it can be made in prefabricated portions in factory sites nearby—which re-uses many old manufacturing sites to create good jobs close to housing areas.
 
Also a wood building is more easily insulated and can be built with better solar aspects so that it is warmer in winter and usually cooler in summer. 
 
Fire is no greater or worse a risk in a well-made wood structures meet all fire regulation and are as good as concrete or steel because the real culprit in residential fires is the inside home furnishings, not the construction materials. 
 
Using mass timber panels allow 30 or more storey buildings that perform much better, look much better and when recycled will leave almost no waste, unlike concrete and steel debris that is choking our landfills.
 
There is a lot of virtue in knowing demolition can mean a better future for the material of the past as they become the ingredients for the future.
 
Wood and Workers
 
While timber is fast, it requires some skills and expertise. Concrete and steel are de-skilled, requiring lots of pre-engineering but less real on-site services: so if we build with wood maybe we can have real long-term employment that builds a future for the workers of our communities who are proud of what they make and how they made it. Wooden buildings age well so communities will want them and treasure them.
 
Professor Edward Blakely holds acting and emeritus professorships at Universities in Australia, the US and Africa. He is the Greater Sydney Commissioner for West Central, which covers the Cumberland, Parramatta, Blacktown and The Hills local government areas. He is an active advisor for many cities and international organizations including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. These are my view not those of the Commission or any organisation that I am affiliated with. Let’s make a conversation! Listen to weekly radio Cityscape radio podcast at 2Ser FM radio streamed @ http://www.2ser.com/on-air/streaming


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