Thursday, September 13, 2018

Bomb Proof Timber Buildings

Greetings from the Mass Timber Building Seminar at the Australian National University. The new ANU teaching building is being constructed from timber, which is still unusual for large modern buildings. One aspect of this building technique which was pointed out by Andrew Smith from Lendlease DesignMake, is that it has been tested as bomb proof for the US Army.

What might have wider applicability is that Andrew suggested the use of a technique similar to that used by automobile manufacturers to produce a wide range of different cars from the same set of engineered components. With this a set of steel connectors and wooden panels would be used to quickly produce custom buildings. But perhaps from car making as an analogy, flat-pack furniture would be more applicable.

I asked Andrew if timber provided flexibility for a teaching building. He said that they settled on a 8 x 8 m module for the new ANU Flexible Teaching building would provide a good balance between flexibility and cost. The wood floor of the building is stiffened with wood ribs.

I was one of those who argued for eliminating conventional lecture theaters, but exactly what size or shape space might be best is still not yet clear. It is also likely this will change over time. Six years ago I looked at remodeling the ANU's Computer Science and Information Technology Building (CSIT) for flexible learning. However, this was difficult to do due to the placement of the columns in the building. These had been placed to suit the computer workstations in common use when it was built. The computers were long gone, being obsolete, but the concrete columns could not be moved.

Andrew Smith also emphasized "volumetrics". Buildings are mostly empty space and so it is not necessarily economic to build them in modules.  It is more efficient to assemble them from pre-cut panels and beams. The panels can then be "nested" for delivery: carefully laid out like a jigsaw puzzle to reduce wasted space. He pointed out that the panels must be smaller than the shipping containers they are transported in. However the panels are very strong and it occurred to me they might be stacked on a logistics platform.

Later speakers at the seminar will discuss how the Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) building panels are made (Sean Bull, XLAM) and how to prevent Mould & Fire (Andreas Luzzi, Laros Industries).

While the construction of large buildings from timber appears challenging,  Rohan George from Equatorial Launch Australia mentioned they were looking at it for their Arnhem Space Centre in the Northern Territory.

ps: I will be speaking on "Learning to use new  tech-infused teaching spaces" at EduBuild 2018 in Singapore, 9 October, 5:20pm.

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