Vistek Associate Nathan Benbow recently attended the 5th Pacific Timber Engineering Conference (PTEC 2019) in Brisbane. Nathan is the lead of Vistek’s mass timber and CLT team. As such, it was a great opportunity for him to share knowledge and experience with other leaders in the field.

PTEC 2019 was run by The University of Queensland’s School of Civil Engineering with the ARC Future Timber Hub. It aims to promote the use of timber, from tall and mid-rise buildings to domestic structures and more. PTEC 2019 brought together a wide range of national and international speakers from industry, academia, and technical research. Fire resistance, durability and robustness were the main research and presentation topics. Mass timber, including CLT, GLT and hybrid forms, were the subject of many talks. These topics also dominated discussions during the breaks and networking sessions.

PTEC 2019 - word cloud of topics covered including buildings, CLT, design, engineering, experimental, fire, frame, mass-timber, structures

A word cloud of the key topics covered in PTEC 2019

Fire Engineering

Keynote speaker Professor José L. Torero from University College London kicked off PTEC 2019. Professor Totero introduced the separation of risks as the basis for a more rational, versatile and streamlined approach to fire safe design. As the rate of large and/or complex timber buildings has increased, traditional Fire Resistance approaches have become outdated. Presenters from Arup, The University of Queensland, and RED Fire Engineers expanded upon this theme, presenting their research and strategies for more effective fire engineering methodologies.

Wood products and components

A wide range of speakers presented on new wood products and components, including composite and hybrid forms. Suppliers and researchers are continually finding innovative new directions for timber components. It was exciting to see the breadth of new solutions and products that are becoming available. Key mass timber suppliers Rothoblass (Italy) and XLam (Australia/NZ) both presented. Rothoblass introduced a new reinforcement system for point supported CLT slabs, and a new angle bracket for CLT structures. XLam’s talks included testing for a new CLT beam floor system design, as well as an experimental analysis of load-bearing CLT platform-frame reinforcements. All the presenters showed an inspiring dedication to pursuing innovation and excellence in the field.

New directions and Innovative projects

Of course, it is in projects and case studies that all these new theories and techniques come to life. Countless ground-breaking projects were referenced throughout the talks, but a few in particular deserve special mention.

A multi-storey mass timber school in NSW

BVN Architecture showcased the first multi-storey school built using mass timber (CLT and GLT). The team chose mass timber for many reasons. Firstly, its physical properties. Mass timber has a high quality finish and is prefabricated, quick to build. It is also lightweight, suited to building on top of the existing structure. However, the intangible benefits of using timber were just as important. In particular, BVN cited the positive health and psychological impact on the students, and the environmental sustainability of the construction.

A GLT bridge

Presenters from the University of Queensland’s Centre of Future Timber Structures highlighted the potential for mass timber in infrastructure projects. The design presented was for the Yangjaegogae Eco Bridge in Korea. It uses GLT to create an 87m span central arch and two 24m span wing arches. The plan would utilise the pre-fabricated and lightweight nature of mass GLT to reduce the impact on the freeway below. The design provides an interesting new angle on the use of mass timber in large scale structures.

Mass timber advocacy and design approaches

Proposed design of the Lane County courthouse, a five storey mass timber civil building.

Lane County Courthouse – by Tallwood Design Institute and the University of Oregon’s Department of Architecture

Judith Sheine from the University of Oregon (UO) introduced their work with the TallWood Design Institute (TDI). TDI is a collaborative research initiative between UO and Oregon State University (OSU). Part of TDI’s aims are to ‘promote mass timber manufacturing and construction by showcasing it in prominent public buildings’. One of these demonstration projects is the Lane County Mass Timber Courthouse, designed by the Department of Architecture at UO. Apart from being a remarkable design, there were two main takeaways from Sheine’s presentation.

Firstly, mass timber projects must be in the public eye to move society towards more sustainable and robust buildings. University and government initiatives as well as commercial can be used to stimulate and improve the industry and surrounding economy. Secondly, in their research and work UO has found that an integrated approach is essential when working with mass timber. This aligns with our experience at Vistek. In a traditional building approach, the various professions and trades can work fairly autonomously. In mass timber design, however, an integrated interdisciplinary team is needed right from the outset. Such teams must include architects, engineers, environmental controls consultants, and even building contractors. Having all disciplines on board right from the outset is the only way to create cost-effective and efficient designs.

In summary

All in all, PTEC 2019 was an inspiring and informative conference. All the presenters showed an inspiring dedication to pursuing innovation and excellence in the field.