Build them tall

with Dr Joe Gattas

EAIT’s newest Centre of Excellence, the Centre for Future Timber Structures (CFTS), was established to drive broader use of timber as a sustainable material in the Australian built environment.

Using timber as a construction material has clear benefits – it’s natural, making it a safe and healthy construction material; it’s environmentally friendly as it can be sustainably farmed; it requires the lowest energy of almost all common building materials to produce; and it’s a great insulator.

Advancing timber-based construction in tall buildings isn’t easy, though. It requires an integrated approach across manufacturing, design and construction.

UQ’s interdisciplinary team incorporates not just experts from the UQ School of Civil Engineering, but also product manufacturers, construction managers, fire safety engineers, architects and structural engineers. This range of experts are working towards the production of safe, strong and sustainable materials that can be used for rapid construction, while reducing the weight of material, enhancing building quality and performance, and minimising waste on site.

The team works on projects including the development of Engineered Wood Products (EWPs) appropriate for the Australian context; the development of hybrid construction systems like concrete-timber; the development of prefabricated EWP construction systems; and holistic assessment of EWPs.

EWPs provide one of the best potential means of reducing resource consumption and reducing the environmental impacts caused by the construction sector, which is estimated to contribute as much as one third of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Timber-based buildings require less energy from resource extraction through manufacturing, distribution, use and end-of-life disposal, and are responsible for producing far less greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and water pollution, going beyond the benefits of most renewable building materials.

The need to address fire safety considerations in timber construction is a major ongoing challenge for researchers.

Driven by the fear of large, destructive fires, current regulations impose severe restrictions on the use of timber. Timber structural elements are required to be covered by non-combustible materials, increasing the construction cost and embodied energy while also restricting the aesthetic exposure of timber surfaces. This is a key area that researchers are working on – how to properly address the inherent combustibility of timber and its structural performance during and after fire.

UQ fire engineering researcher Carmen Gorska Putynska (featured on the cover of this edition of Ingenuity), for example, is looking at how to best utilise the self-extinguishing nature of timber in engineered cross-laminated timber (CLT) structures, with the aim to improve fire safety in the use of this ultra-popular new product.

UQ’s Fire Safety Engineering group are leading the discussion in Australia towards establishing clear guidelines for timber-based construction and achieving true optimisation of tall timber buildings.

With this research, the team hopes to usher in a new phase of tall timber building construction across Australia and across the world – and perhaps delivering a new 21st century timber Queenslander style along the way.

Dr Joe Gattas in the UQ Structures Lab with PhD student, Yousef Al-Qaryouti's pre-fabricated modular timber building that could be used for affordable housing or in emergency situations like for refugee camps.

UQ PhD candidate, Carmen Gorska Putynska studies fire safety engineering. Her research project is 'self-extinguishment of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in multi-scale compartment fires'.

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