We spend approximately 90% of our daily lives indoors. Yes, 90%!

Tania Gordon of Bates Smart, confronted the audience with this fact at the ‘Race to the Top’ seminar I attended. Tania led the Bates Smart design team for the recently completed 25 King St commercial office building, which won the Beatrice Hutton Award for Commercial Architecture at the recent 2019 QLD Architecture Awards. Standing at 52-metres tall, the 10-storey building is recognised as the world’s largest engineered timber office building.

Bringing the outdoors in

25 King Street. Image By Tom Roe. Source: ArchitectureAU.

Keeping this statistic front of mind, the designers aimed to incorporate nature into the building to support improved health and well-being for building occupants. One solution was to fill the ground floor foyer with a green wall. The other, to create the entire structure from timber, which turned out to be an incredibly simple solution. Working toward this goal, the concept required buy-in from all project team members particularly LendLease as developer & contractor and Arup as the structural engineer.

Verandah out the front…

Rather than adopting an 8m x 8m structural grid (typical for most concrete structures), the design team worked this back to a 6m x 8m grid. The design incorporates many elements of the Queensland vernacular; a large verandah fronting the street enveloped by shading devices on either side. Large expanses of glass provide shelter to the verandah which showcase the unique timber structure beyond. The restrained finishes palette internally provide an honest expression of the structure whereby the warmth of the timber gives comfort to occupants who respond positively to the light and warmth of the space. What probably surprised me most was that even the lift core anchoring the rear of the building is constructed from engineered timber.

The surprising benefits

25 King Street. Image by Tom Roe, Source: ArchitectureAU.

Emphasis on services design and coordination with structure was imperative during the early stages of design to ensure beams were generally penetration free – spare a few that were designed into the structure. Structure aside, the detailing appeared to be generally typical of commercial construction techniques, without pushing into some form of ‘experimental concept project.’ Building construction & assembly also offered many benefits:

  • All elements were fabricated off-site requiring a minimal site team site
  • The lightweight materials allowed construction in difficult areas
  • Safety rails were integrated with the flooring panels as they were lifted into place, thus negating any scaffold requirement and
  • Each level was assembled in only 11 days.

While the benefits for using engineered timber construction appear to be plentiful, I don’t think we’ll see any rapid change to current market expectations.

However, the opportunities that this evolving construction method presents inspire me. I think that in the long term, Australia could benefit greatly by adopting these materials and building planning methods. In the words of Arup’s engineer Toby Hodsdon, the question we should be asking is “What can you do with timber that you can’t do with other materials?”

Further reading…

For more information on this exciting project and engineered timber construction, check out the following resources;

QLD Architecture Awards Publication:

https://repository.architecture.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/NAA19_AWARDSBOOKLET_Queensland_digital.pdf

News Articles:

https://architectureau.com/articles/australias-tallest-engineered-timber-office-building-opens/

https://brisbanedevelopment.com/first-timber-arrives-at-the-worlds-largest-engineered-timber-office-building/

Arup Report titled “Rethinking Timber Buildings”

https://www.arup.com/perspectives/publications/research/section/rethinking-timber-buildings

Images by Tom Roe, as published in ArchitectureAU.com