Australia becomes latest nation to embrace wooden high-rise buildings

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A change to building regulation codes in Australia means that architects will be allowed to build timber-framed structures up to eight storeys in height for the first time.

As the result of a two-year research project, the country's National Construction Code will be altered so that the permitted height of wooden buildings increases from three storeys to eight.

The changes, effective from 1 May 2016, are expected to offer cost savings of up to 15 per cent compared with other construction systems.

The new regulations are more line with buildings codes in North America and Europe, where many seven- to nine-storey wooden buildings have been completed, and a series of timber-framed skyscrapers are proposed.

Puukuokka housing block by OOPEAA
Prefabricated modules of cross-laminated timber were "plugged in like Lego pieces" to build OPPEAA's Finlandia Prize-winning Puukuokka apartment building

The research project was led by Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA), a nonprofit industry organisation. Managing director Ric Sinclair claims the ruling will offer benefits to local residents, property owners and the domestic building industry.

"This initiative will bring Australia up to pace with much of the rest of the world – so that the building property industry can take advantage of the environmental and cost benefits of domestic timber construction," he said.



"Wood can offer quicker build times, with less noise and disruption for neighbours. It can also offer innovative design approaches," he added.

Framework by Lever Architects
Lever Architecture has designed a 12-storey tower for Portland, Oregon, that will be one of the tallest wooden buildings in the US

Finland adopted a similar change to its building codes in 2010, paving the way for an eight-storey wooden apartment block – the tallest of its kind in the country – to be completed last year.

Austria previously prohibited wooden buildings over five storeys, but a seven-storey apartment block was built there in 2013. Meanwhile, a 12-storey timber building is set to be constructed in the United States, and wooden skyscrapers are proposed for Sweden and Canada.

"A look at international trends shows the global sector is embracing both traditional wood and modern engineered wood products in an increasingly broad range of structural and decorative applications," said Sinclair.

Wooden skyscraper by CF Møller
CF Møller is currently working on a "woodscraper" for Stockholm

The ruling applies to both traditional timber frames and modern engineered timbers, including both glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT). It is these products, which are considerably stronger and more stable than regular wood, that are making timber high-rises possible.

"This is an exciting step forward for architects and their clients," said James Fitzpatrick of Sydney firm Fitzpatrick and Partners. "It not only gives us new material options to create innovative design solutions for our clients, but it also enables us to deliver more environmentally advantaged and sustainable developments."

"Ultimately, the code change will potentially mean quicker, more cost-effective and environmentally friendlier construction of apartment, office and hotel buildings," he added.

Speaking to Dezeen at the end of 2015, UK architect Andrew Waugh declared: "This is the beginning of the timber age."

He claimed that a CLT structure can be constructed much faster than a concrete building, requires fewer deliveries to site, and offers a far more pleasant environment for construction workers. "It is just better quality building," he said.

  • spadestick

    Great news, but make sure you can deal with the major termite problem in Australia.

    • Guest

      They’ve yet to find a totally effective way to “make sure”.

  • T-dog

    Cue fire comment….

  • Concerned Citizen

    Isn’t Australia mostly desert? Why would they support the extermination of such a valuable element of the environment?

    I don’t mind wood being used for finishes, but to consume all that wood in framing just doesn’t make sense.

    • Guestedly

      Most, if not all timber cut down in Australia (and New Zealand) is sustainably sourced from specified forestry areas. All timber cut down is replaced at a 1:1 (or greater) ratio.

    • H-J

      Yeah, let’s just keep using concrete, steel and plastics instead of renewable sustainable materials such as wood.

      • Concerned Citizen

        Wise up. Steel is probably the most heavily recycled material in the industry. Wood is seldom recycled as a structural element.

  • LuvConstruction

    That’s why you have termite management in all buildings. Timber is a sustainable material compared to other materials.

  • LuvConstruction

    Timbers are sustainable if taken from sustainable forests, you can regrow trees. Steel is not sustainable, once you explode the ground and take the iron ore out of the rock you can’t replace.

    We will not be able to do this forever. And who knows what will happen in the future taking all this out of the ground and not replacing it. Timber will be always a far superior material.

  • Guest

    There are skyscrapers all around the world being built with hundreds of thousands of tons of steel, yet sustainability disciples would deny an architect even a few tons of the stuff to frame his own little house.