Property Australia

CLT rises to the challenge


Challenging times call for innovative ideas – and cross-laminated timber is one of those inventions that can accelerate construction, enhance safety and deliver faster returns, says Stantec engineer Alasdair MacKerron.

“At a time when the construction industry has a laser-focus on safety and is looking to reduce the time workers spend on site, cross-laminated timber is a serious solution,” says MacKerron, principal and structural section manager for Stantec.

While this renewable resource, dubbed CLT, has been hailed as a sustainability superstar for its low carbon footprint, it also makes for quicker and more cost-effective construction, MacKerron explains.

“Using CLT means more time is spent in the planning and preparation phases offsite, and manufacture is undertaken in a controlled environment which minimises risks to workers.

“A project using CLT may need just 10 workers onsite, compared to 50 on a traditional site. From a fiscal and safety perspective, CLT is certainly worth considering,” MacKerron says.

Research from Forest and Wood Products Australia finds the use of CLT can trim construction timelines by up to 15 per cent.

Engineered timber is around 35 per cent lighter than concrete or steel, potentially cutting crane, scaffolding and foundation costs, and labour with it.

While there are notable CLT projects around the country – such as Lendlease’s International House in Sydney, 25 King in Brisbane and Library at the Dock in Melbourne – the material is yet to gain a strong foothold in Australia. Why is that?

“Our clients will typically compare the cost of traditional construction with this new form and say it’s more expensive – and that’s true if you just look at the material cost.

“But our challenge as an industry is to look at the project holistically. Concrete may cost less per square metre, but it takes longer to build. This means your land is tied up for longer and you don’t get the return until later.”

MacKerron points to one CLT school project he was involved with in the United Kingdom, which was delivered 14 weeks earlier than the steel frame alternative. “This equated to an entire school term. Translate that into a commercial environment and it means you are getting your revenue stream several months earlier.”

MacKerron acknowledges that modular construction and engineered timber won’t suit every project, but “it is time to challenge the way we’ve always done things”.

“Amid these difficult and extraordinary times, we have a chance to reset and to rethink the way we build. We can establish better ways of working for the long-term – not just over the next challenging period. In doing so, we’ll unearth new opportunities and create new value.”