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    US$2 million offered for taller timber building designs

    Geraldine Chua

    A competition run by the United States Department of Agriculture is offering a US $2 million prize (about AU $2.2 million) for new design ideas that will allow taller wood structures to be built in the country.

    The Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, supported by the Softwood Lumber Board and Binational Softwood Lumber Council, invites US developers, institutions, organisations and design teams to submit entries that undertake alternative solutions like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) to construct taller timber buildings.

    Submissions must showcase the safe application, practicality and sustainability of a minimum 80-foot structure that uses mass timber, composite wood technologies and innovative building techniques.

    “The objective of the Competition is to identify proponents with building project(s) in the concept, schematic or design development stage in the US that can safely and successfully demonstrate the use of wood as a viable structural material in tall buildings,” the organisers say.

    “Above and beyond the safety, environmental and economic benefits of wood, the initiative will challenge developers, designers, building officials, builders and manufacturers to further develop and refine specification and use of structural wood products – ultimately expanding the opportunity for new product and market development.”

    The large prize money is being offered to overcome one of the main barriers to the use of new building materials and systems – the lack of risk capital to support the additional costs of analysing novel design and engineering alternatives.

    “There is a breadth of wood-related building science, design and construction that’s underway internationally,” Marc Brinkmeyer, SLB Board Chair explained.

    “In recent years we’ve seen a number of buildings over seven stories constructed around the world, including the 10-storey Forte building in Melbourne, Australia and the 14-storey Treet Building in Bergen, Norway. The opportunity to learn from what’s been done elsewhere and build on it here in the U.S is very exciting for our industry, our employees and communities.”

    Although Australia is cited as an example to emulate, there have been no similar moves made by the local industry or government to encourage the building of more and taller timber structures. Even though the country is poised to build bigger and better timber buildings, Simon Dorries from Engineered Wood Products Association of Australia (EWPAA) says that an unfamiliarity with the product and its processes has led to some inertia.

    “I think architects are quite excited about designing in timber but the bigger problem I believe is the builders, in that they are very familiar with steel and concrete, and much less so with timber,” he says.

    “Obviously government has to play a role [in encouraging taller timber]. The New Zealand government already has some very timber-friendly policies, but we’re just not seeing the same here in Australia.”

    Forte by Lend Lease in Melbourne is currently the tallest CLT residential building in the world, although it is set to be eclipsed by Artec’s 49 metre Treet (‘The Tree’), which is now being constructed with load-carrying glulam trusses carrying prefabricated building modules, and due to be completed in October 2015.

    'The Tree' will be the world's highest wooden building when completed

    The Tall Wood Building Prize Competition was developed to highlight the architectural and commercial viability of advanced wood products in high-rise construction in the US, and part of a process that aims to support employment opportunities in rural communities, maintain the health and resiliency of US forests, and advance sustainability in the built environment.

    It sits under the Obama administration’s commitment to mitigate climate change, and will promote wood as a green building material.

    All entries must be submitted by December 8, 2014, with judging to take place until January 2015. The evaluation criteria can be found here

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