Canterbury rebuild: How wood is a better choice for the new city

It was interesting to attend the ForestWood Conference in Auckland recently and learn about the extent of innovation in the wood processing and manufacturing sector.

The forestry sector may be New Zealand’s third largest export earner, but raw logs make up more than half the value of these exports. The ever increasing piles of logs at the port of Lyttelton are a lost opportunity to increase local jobs, know-how and the value of our exports from exporting more manufactured and processed wood products.

The Canterbury rebuild is an excellent opportunity to use and showcase locally developed innovative and world leading advances in the use of timber.

In central Christchurch, there are plenty of examples of concrete and steel framed commercial buildings, but only a handful that have recognised the benefits of building with wood.

Wynn Williams House on the corner of Montreal and Hereford Streets with its post tensioned timber and concrete frame, and timber and concrete composite floors is good example of the beauty and practicality of wood.

Wood is a renewable resource that we grow well locally.  It’s a natural material that people want and enjoy in buildings.

We have world-leading expertise at the University of Canterbury in the development and strength of engineered timber such as glue-laminated timber beams.

These engineered timber products can significantly increase the value of NZ’s forestry exports; and allow architects, engineers and builders to innovate in how we use wood.

There are seismic and safety benefits of using wood as a structural material. Such buildings are lighter and can be more resilient in earthquakes than masonry ones.

Wood is more climate friendly than concrete or steel. Trees capture carbon as they grow, and this stays in the wood. Concrete production has a large carbon footprint and accounts for about five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Studies show the manufacture of steel beams requires more fossil fuels than glue-laminated wood beams.

We should be planting more native and exotic forest to help the climate and diversify our land use. Yet the failure of the Emissions Trading Scheme means that more forest has been cleared since 2008 than has been planted.

The Green Party would grasp the opportunity that the Government has largely ignored to promote greater use of wood in the Christchurch rebuild.  We can create new buildings that draw on the best of what the sector can deliver, showcase what is good about wood, and innovate further.

This column was originally published in Canterbury Build magazine, May 2016

1 Comment Posted

  1. We can do engineered wood and it might well be a good product for us… the market is not currently large, but will improve as the need to sequester CO2 becomes more pointed. Wood built into a building in this form can be there for more than a century and effectively sequestered for twice that or longer. We can do much much more for our economy of course.

    We can (and should) build our own “furniture”.

    …but please no soggy MDF !!!

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