Mass Engineered Timber (MET) Construction: its feasibility in hot & humid SE Asian cities

Tuesday, November 22, 2022 11:10 | Alison Huynh (Administrator)

By Florence Wong

Florence is a PhD candidate at the University of NSW in Australia. Florence has a background in Architect from HK University and has grown her career in the world of sustainable architecture. Florence discusses her research into mass timber construction and investigating its feasibility in hot and humid South East Asian Cities.

To meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature increase below 1.5oC, the global economy is aiming to achieve net zero carbon emission by 2050. We know that the building sector contributes a major part of carbon emissions of up to 37% in 2020. So, the building industry worldwide is seeking ways to lower this as it develops the built environment.

In the past 20 years, a major development of mass engineered timber (MET) products has seen the lamination of smaller timber pieces into larger structural components, e.g., cross-laminated timber (CLT). Modern methods of construction have also been progressed, including digitalization in design and prefabrication. DfMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly is a way to increase efficiency and improve the quality of building construction by shifting most of the process into factories.

As a result, MET construction using prefabricated timber components is increasingly used to achieve sustainable building construction. Timber is a renewable material and can sequester carbon as trees grow. The carbon is subsequently sequestered in the built structure. Using timber in construction, plus possibly working together with other building materials as hybrid structures, could provide a solution for sustainable and efficient construction of larger scale contemporary buildings.

Multi-storey MET and hybrid buildings are being built in many overseas countries. These are frequently facilitated by new government policies and updated building codes. However, most of these buildings are concentrated in Europe, UK, and North America. More are now being built in Australia but only a very few in Asia. This research aims at finding out the reasons for this slow adoption, particularly in the hot and humid SE Asian cities of Singapore and Hong Kong. Our research will systematically investigate and analyse the parameters of these cities and the barriers that are affecting the adoption of multi-storey MET and hybrid buildings.

We will also compare these cities to Brisbane, Australia which has a similar climate yet is moving quickly in adopting timber construction. There are already many multi-storey MET projects completed in Australia, and proposals lodged that include hybrid high-rises up to 40 storeys in Sydney.

Some people may question whether increasing the supply of timber will risk deforestation of our native landscapes. Other people may also remember previous issues with timber construction such as its perceived lack of durability and risks of fire often derived from depictions of historic catastrophic blazes. However, in recent decades, advanced technologies, full-scale fire testing and certification of timber supply, have provided feasible solutions to address these constraints.

A further aim of this research is sharing the knowledge of these advances and the experience gained from completed projects with the building industry. This industry is beginning a steep learning curve regarding MET construction. In time, we believe that more successful MET projects will be completed and ultimately appreciated by the public.