Timber is one of the oldest and most popular building materials around, and not without good reason – it is aesthetically pleasing, durable, a natural insulator, lightweight, and has low embodied energy.

Its applications are also well-documented, with wood gaining newfound fame in recent years as the industry makes advances in using engineered timber for larger, multi-storey projects. However, wood has also found new avenues as an exterior wall material.

One of the most common specifications of the product is timber cladding, which generally come in long and narrow boards that are installed either horizontally or vertically, or in shingle or panel forms. But as Breathe Architecture show with their Stonewood project, timber can be used in more innovative ways.

Stonewood features an operable timber ‘block’ cladding façade that was inspired by a neighbouring bluestone cottage. This façade was designed as a modernised alternative to the stretcher-coarse bluestone, with the Class 1 Victorian sugar gum cladding cut into the same dimensions as the bluestone instead of being laid in planks.

Photography by Andrew Wuttke

Using timber in new design applications has also been a highlight for larger, non-residential applications, with these projects from Australia and around the world showing that the design possibilities for incorporating timber into a façade really are endless.

Damiani-Holz & Ko (DH&K) by MoDus Architects

When DH&K, a firm that in the timber construction field, wanted their new office premises designed, there was little question as to what material would be used extensively. This four storey building in Italy features 424 geometric plywood fins that vertically wrap around a simple cubic form to create a mesmerising, rippling wave effect.

The exterior skin has two layers, both made from Kerto’s laminated veneer lumber (LVL) product from Metsa Wood, Architect Magazine reports. The base layer comprises 156, 0.83-1 inch thick sheets treated for fungal and weather resistance, and finished in a dark stain. Lighter coloured curvilinear fins lie perpendicular to these darker panels to add depth and dynamism to the façade. Windows punctuate this geometry, while the timber louvres shade the structures’ envelope.

According to founding partner of MoDus, Sandy Attia, the design was inspired by the tall pallets of boards and planks in DH&K’s lumberyard. Each fin is uniquely shaped and cut, and was designed with a variety of software, including Maxon Cinema 4D Studio and Autodesk 3ds Max.

Images: MoDus Architects

NewActon Nishi by Fender Katsalidis and Arup

NewActon Nishi, a mixed-use commercial and residential development, is the centrepiece of Canberra’s award-winningNew Acton precinct, and features one of Australia’s largest timber façade. More than 40 km of sustainable Australian blackbutt timber shade the glass from morning sun to stop unwanted solar gain and heat, while letting in daylight and allowing views out.

The timber façade also incorporates more than 90 plant boxes, including a mixture of climbers and low-level, low-water plant species, to increase the biodiversity of the structure, enhance its aesthetics and assist it in keeping cool. This is complemented by timber balustrading and timber framed windows for the residential apartments, making for a more ‘environmentally gentle’ development, says Arup.

The use of timber is very prominent in the precinct, with March Studio creating art with repurposed timber in the  Hotel Hotel lobby and Nishi Grand Stair Interior.

Images: Arup

Sunny Hills Japan by Kengo Kuma & Associates

The Japanese are marvellous with timber designs, and this shop specialising in the selling of pineapple cake, a popular sweet in Taiwan, is no exception. Shaped like a bamboo basket, it is built on a joint system called ‘Jigoku-Gumi’, a method traditionally used in Japanese wood architecture where vertical and cross pieces of the same width are entwined to form a muntin grid.

Normally, two pieces intersect in two dimensions, but the architects say they combined the pieces in 30 degrees in three dimensions for this project, with the section size of each wood piece reduced to as thin as 60 x 60 mm. The result is a cloud-like, structure that is easily distinguished from concrete boxes that dominate the residential area. 

Images: Daici Ano. Source: designboom

Monash University Student Housing by BVN

As the first University project in Australia to be built using the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) funding, the  Monash University Student Housing had to meet a number of sustainability, community, and quality requirements.

Wood was chosen alongside concrete and black steel in a palette that merged the building form with the surrounding landscape. The timber façade is angled within the concrete frame to provide both shading and a dynamic pattern of light and shade to the modular facades, which were built offsite and helped the team achieve significant savings.

The double storey height of the common spaces is also wrapped in timber slats, which offers views to the sports field and bush reserves. The sustainable timber spotted gum ship lap 120 x 20mm and sustainable timber spotted gum battens 68 x 42 mm were both from Nullarbor.

Images: John Gollings