Goodbye, concrete and steel? Why timber towers could be the future

A Melbourne development has joined a push to grow the Australian timber tower movement and reduce the construction industry’s massive environmental footprint, but higher costs and fears of fire risks continue to pose obstacles.

Collingwood will soon be home to a 15-storey hybrid timber office tower – one of Australia’s tallest timber buildings – where 10 levels are made entirely from wood above four concrete floors.

The tower, called T3 Collingwood and developed by global real estate company Hines, is one of a handful of recent major mass timber developments in Australia that could signal the country is catching onto a trend well-established in the United States and Europe.

About 3500 cubic metres of wood will be used in T3 Collingwood’s structural frame by the time of its expected completion in September.

It sounds like a lot of tree-felling, but some experts say timber construction is crucial to cutting carbon emissions and creating a smoother building process.

Globally, the steel, cement and aluminium industries each produce about 8 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. The only emissions associated with using wood as a building material are from the machinery used to process and transport it.

In November, the federal government announced a $70 million investment in the Hines development, making it the first to be financed under the government’s $300 million program to help kickstart mass timber construction.

Hines managing director Simon Nasa said a company analysis showed the Collingwood tower would have a 40 per cent lower embodied carbon footprint – the greenhouse gas emissions associated with construction – than an equivalent structure made of concrete and steel.

“There’s a substantial amount of carbon that’s produced in manufacturing steel and concrete, whereas timber actually sequesters carbon [in its growth phase] and it stays a natural carbon store,” Nasa said.