With changes to timber manufacturing and new design interpretations, the long-overlooked material is back in fashion, finding particular popularity in the global interior design sector.
The popularity of the wooden high-rise, exemplified by Melbourne’s Forte building, has bred new perceptions surrounding timber and new technological gains that promise to bring the renewable material back into the popular design realm.
According to Canadian architect Shane Williamson of Williamson Chong Architects (WCA), the growing interest in – and prevalence of – wooden structures, interiors and aesthetics due to three main catalysts: technological and functional improvements, updated design possibilities, and sustainability.
“Our interest in wood follows from a real contemporary stream associated with notions of sustainability,” Williamson said. “To see even the most general charts of the embedded energy of wood, compared to materials such as concrete and steel, is to be immediately (persuaded) that it’s a renewable resource with the lowest carbon footprint – a really fantastic material.”
This is especially relevant in the development and implementation of the increasingly popular cross-laminated timber (CLT). Described by Wood Solutions as ‘jumbo plywood,’ this specifically-engineered product is playing an increasingly major role in the prefabrication of major structures, including both the Forte building and Melbourne’s planned Delta building.
The material’s worldwide appeal is due to its clever mix of durability, lightweight nature, safety and resistance to fire.
European testing has even shown that CLT offers advantages in fire resistance over concrete or steel. As with other timber materials, during a fire, a charred layer will form around the material core which helps it to retain its load-bearing capacity and delay the charring rate.
“It’s what people are talking about right now,” Williamson says. “It is produced in manufacturing plants with great precision. You end up with a fairly extraordinary system that can produce the equivalent of homogenous wood panels at tremendous scales – 52 feet long, for example.”
The prefabricated nature of the material offers particular appeal to developers, with project delivery times drastically decreased when using timber.
“Manufacturing may be away from a building site, and (CLT elements) are assembled in a very dumb way,” says Williamson. “There are very large screws, for example, 12 inches long, and the whole system is clipped and screwed into place, reducing the construction time to days or weeks, compared to months.”
This new and improved material is changing the face of the built world, offering up extended design possibilities that are safe, aesthetically pleasing, efficient and sustainable.