Timber paves way for quake-safe country

Two buildings soon to be constructed in Christchurch could lead the way for a seismically safer New Zealand.

The Garden City will soon be home to two commercial buildings built of EXPAN, a revolutionary post-tensioned laminated veneer lumber (LVL) building system that makes lightweight, seismically safe multi- story timber buildings commercially viable.

Developed at The Universities of Canterbury, Auckland and Technology Sydney, as part of The Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC), EXPAN buildings can be constructed quickly, at an equivalent cost to steel or concrete – and with all the reassurance of lightweight construction. EXPAN’s unique post-tensioned technology combined with the flexibility of timber also enables unique superior seismic capabilities. And if needed, buildings can be deconstructed and rebuilt somewhere else – a real benefit for developers and businesses facing uncertain geographic futures.

The Christchurch timber buildings will be hugely significant examples of cutting-edge seismic design, and damage avoidance technology, Dr Finch says.

“Commercial property owners, and insurers, are now demanding buildings that are not only safe in a major event, but can be rapidly reoccupied afterwards and therefore minimise business interruption. Seismic capabilities are certainly top of mind for building owners in New Zealand now.”

With a national focus on building safety in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes, Dr Finch has seen a steady stream of interest in EXPAN’s seismic capabilities from around the country.

“We’ve seeing a number of queries from Wellington, and throughout New Zealand, as building owners take a fresh look at the seismic risk associated with buildings. We’re also taking calls from people contemplating new builds who are looking to construct something that will offer resistance to seismic activity.”

There are already seven EXPAN buildings in New Zealand, including Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT)’s new Arts and Media Building, and The TUMU ITM Building in Napier.

That number looks set to grow substantially, with more than 260 companies across Australasia signing up for the EXPAN design and installation, and fabricators licences, and more coming on board each week.

“People have always loved timber,” Dr Finch says, “They love that it’s a natural product, it’s sustainable, with a warmth to it you don’t get with other materials. Thanks to LVL and glulam technology, it can now hold its own against steel and concrete as a viable alternative for commercial buildings. Design professionals are now realising timber is a real option, it’s not just a nice idea anymore.”

Dr Finch says there’s a strong correlation between the interest they’ve seen from licensees, and global building industry trends. Timber is certainly riding the wave of the global movement to build green.

“Sustainability and a lowered environmental footprint are the main drivers behind the renaissance of timber in Europe. And we’re getting there in New Zealand. The green aspect is considered a nice bonus here – seismic qualities are what everyone is looking for in this part of the world.”

“New Zealand licensees have been very interested in the post-tensioned technology and the flexibility of timber that enables unique seismic strengthening properties. As each EXPAN building goes up, momentum increases too.”

Jasper van der Lingen, the architect behind one of the new timber buildings soon to be constructed in central Christchurch, says he sees a big future in wooden building technology – and a definitive reason why New Zealanders are so keen to build in wood.

“I think this technology is very special to New Zealand, after all – we are a timber country. It’s fantastic to be able to use a local, sustainable resource, and locally developed technology, to design a unique looking, long-span commercial building that’s not been possible here before.”