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11 Aug 2022

Australian Timber Skyscrapers Set New Height Records

Australian Timber Skyscrapers Set New Height Records

Australian skylines may soon be dotted with timber buildings up to 50 stories tall as part of an effort to decarbonize and revitalise urban construction.

Three different ideas have been presented to erect 180–220 m tall hybrid timber structures in Sydney and Perth.

Each would be taller than the 86.6-meter apartment building in Milwaukee, USA, which currently holds the global record.

Hybrid construction, which surrounds a concrete core with engineered "mass timber," enables the construction of timber skyscrapers.

Developer James Dibble claims hybrid technology puts timber on par with concrete and steel in his project for a 47-story apartment complex in Perth, which is currently before the state development council.

"There is not really any limitation to height other than the limitation of physics like any other building, to be frank," he said.

"I think a 350 metre hybrid building is possible, which is almost twice the height [of the Perth apartment building]."

Timber naturally sequesters carbon, even after a tree is cut down, whereas the production of cement and concrete is estimated to contribute roughly 8% of global glasshouse gas emissions.

Pine and other softwood plantations trees grow most quickly in the first few decades after planting, and at about 30 years old, they may be harvested for their timber.

Lumber is more expensive to cultivate, harvest, and process than concrete or steel, yet some developers are ready to pay more for timber because of its sustainability.

According to James Dibble, a carbon-negative Perth tower will cost approximately 9% more than a building made entirely of steel and concrete.

"There's got to be a recognition that the built environment is one of the three main contributors to climate change," he said.

"We've seen huge evolution in terms of animal agriculture and transport and not very much has been done [in construction].

"And I would remind everyone that you can't grow concrete. If concrete was a country, it'd be the third highest emitter in the world."

The aesthetic appeal of timber, which is a natural contrast to the sterile greys and whites that dominate urban design, is its main selling feature in addition to eco-marketing.

In 2023, Boola Katitjin, a structure that prominently displays its timber both inside and out, will be unveiled by Murdoch University in Perth.

"Every time we bring people through, be it visitors, be it future staff members — everyone instinctively goes over and touches the surface of the columns," Multiplex design manager Jamie Cook said.

"It really is a natural material that everyone wants to get up close and personal to."