The Green, Parkville

The new WoodSolutions Mid-rise Advisory Program (WSMAP) pilot is offering developers and building design and construction professionals in Victoria and Queensland support for using timber in mid-rise projects.

It’s a strategic move to ensure the recent changes to the National Construction Code allowing both light weight and massive timber systems in buildings up to 25 metres in height are adopted faster – and deliver economic and environmental benefits to the sector.

Headquartered in Melbourne with a supplementary base in Brisbane, the WSMAP team comprises design, engineering, construction and property specialists.

The team’s program development managers provide advice on optimising the many benefits of timber construction systems. including prefabricated elements, as well as referrals to appropriate consultants, designers, suppliers and other specialists.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the design and construction industry,” says Ric Sinclair, managing director of Forest and Wood Products Australia.

“Typically, following a building code change of this order, we would expect changes in design and building practices and material specifications to take many years to flow through the market. This new program will substantially reduce the uptake time, delivering wide-ranging benefits to developers, builders and the community as a whole.”

Property industry expert and WoodSolutions strategic advisor Robert Pradolin says the new timber building system options are a “no brainer for mid-rise developments”.

The pilot program will start to open the eyes of the property industry to the affordable options available using timber, he says. They have also proven to be quicker and more cost effective than concrete alternatives.

Pradolin brings to the role the first-hand experience as the driving force behind Australand’s (Now Frasers Property Australia) ground-breaking The Greens multi-residential project in Melbourne.

The goal is to create a new market segment for mid-rise construction with timber, for its buildability qualities, sustainability and carbon sequestration.

Pradolin says that at some point in the future it is inevitable there will be a price on carbon – something that will make timber even more cost-competitive with concrete and steel for mid-rise construction.

Program Development Manager Gerry Neylan says there are key groups the team are looking to engage with.

The first is the developers and developer/ builders, Neylan says, because they are the ones who will instruct the designers and the team in terms of the brief for a project.

“The developers would be a first priority.”

The second target group is the consultant team members – the architects, engineers, quantity surveyors and project managers. They are the people who will be looking for advice about building codes, fire, safety, acoustics, detailing and building certification for the new approaches.

Neylan says that there are many in the industry already used to building with lightweight timber systems in the general residential building sector. For them it is about being able to engage in mid-rise projects, he says.

“Any builder, if they are enthusiastic enough, can transition into mid-rise lightweight timber construction. It is just an extension of what they are already doing.”

For those already in the mid-rise sector, the use of lightweight timber systems including stick build and engineered timber systems is not as familiar as concrete and steel. Assistance with designing and documenting for those materials will be valuable.

Design solutions might be hybrid ones, combining elements such as cassette systems like The Green used, laminated veneer lumber, glulam, cross-laminated timber, stick build systems, concrete, steel and other materials.

More suppliers are also offering prefabricated options, including panellised wall systems using timber, and prefabricated truss, framing and flooring systems.

These give projects a speed advantage, and prefabrication also takes some of the work offsite and into the safer environment of a factory setting. Another advantage with timber panel systems such as CLT for mid-rise is workers can simply screw in their safety harness anywhere for work at heights.

Workers feeling safer also means they work more productively. The sites are also cleaner, quieter and have fewer waste issues such as concrete slurry or large amounts of steel and construction offcut waste. High risk trades such as welding and cutting may not be required at all.

Neylan says one of the questions the team are frequently asked is the availability of Australian suppliers. He says the growing strength in the domestic supply chain is a benefit for projects, as there is more certainty around timeframes and costings, and Australian timber can also be used.

There are an increasing number of suppliers and choices of materials for people wishing to use timber in mid-rise residential buildings.

Program manager Paolo Lavisci brings international timber design experience to the team. He says some of the people he is meeting who are interested in timber’s value proposition already have some experience with the material gained in the low-rise residential sector, and  aim to scale up to mid-rise.

Others have no experience in low-rise and have traditionally worked with concrete and steel for mid-rise. For them, the issues are more around changing mind-sets, Lavisci says, for example concerns around fire or durability, which have well-established solutions.

“We have the data, the evidence and the experience to show they have no reason to be concerned.”

Each element of a project team has a different interest area. Architects are interested in the flexibility that engineered wood products can contribute to a design. Engineers are focused on its efficiency in terms of structural performance and quantity surveyors look at its constructability. Builders are focused on time and cost savings, while developers and building surveyors appreciate its reliability in terms of consistent quality.

One of the big advantages for developers is the design and delivery process for timber does not generate variations and delays at the same rate as concrete and steel methods.

It is not only residential mid-rise that is likely to take up the timber opportunity. Under the NCC changes the new rules for timber also apply to schools, commercial offices and retail developments. They do not yet apply to the healthcare sector, but Lavisci says “we’re working on that.”

  • Find more information on the WoodSolutions Technical Field Force mid-rise advisory team here

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