October 27, 2010
“Timber Glulam in the Building Industry” was the seminar organised by APP Timber, in collaboration with
the Malaysian Institute of Architects. Managing Director Michael Hermens welcomed the 190 delegates with the
following short statement “Wood is the only truly sustainable building material if managed well. All other
materials such as cement, bricks, metal and glass are not! This seminar is about sustainable cost effective
engineered timber solutions.” The event, which qualified for CPD, then featured speakers from Australia and
Tony Neilsen, Editor of “TimberDESIGN” magazine from Australia talked about the impressive heritage in
the use of natural timbers of Australia and his native New Zealand. “Forests in New Zealand and Australia” he
said “were decimated by early settlers and both countries are trying to protect what is left.” He described how
the wood industry is fighting back. Glulam, by using small plantation logs is making a contribution to this
conservation effort. He discussed the changing role of wood products in modern building and amenity design
and some of the related environmental factors. Neilsen suggested to the architects present that there seem to
be great opportunities to use recycled timber in Malaysia, much of which is durable and suitable for re-use.
He went on to review the most vexed question of timber finishing and what architects want and finally
presented an array of outstanding residential, commercial and environmental designs where engineered wood
is the primary focus. These included the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the National Library in Brisbane
and many others. He also discussed a six story timber frame building in UK which uses jumbo plywood, built in
46 weeks, which now stores over 1,000 tons of carbon.
Stuart McCallum, MD of Timberbond Industries based in New Zealand gave a broad overview of glulam as
a product and the solutions it can provide together with its advantages. “Glulam gives freedom of design” was
his opening gambit. It can be defect-free he suggested and is possible to design with to an accuracy of 0.1mm.
In such applications as roofs for swimming pools and spas where water purification emissions can present
problems, wood glulam can outperform steel because it is not liable to the corrosion effecting metal. The same
can be true for bridges where salt or brackish (fresh and sea) water is present. Glulam, being benign to
chemicals in the atmosphere, is therefore also suitable for a varied range of industrial and storage buildings,
especially where large roof spans are needed. In Japan the Izumo dome of glulam trusses spans 145 metres.
And then there is the vexed question of fire! Wood burns McCallum conceded but ask any experienced fire
chief and they will tell you which of steel roofs or wood based roofs they prefer to enter at the height of a big
fire. Steel conducts heat throughout its mass and melts at a certain temperature, often collapsing suddenly and
without warning. But wood does not conduct heat easily and also insulates itself by the formation of charcoal
around its exterior surface, and finally before it fails in roofing structures it usually creaks and groans telling
fire-fighters, and anyone else for that matter, to get out!
He went on to make comparisons to steel and concrete and discussed the relevant structural codes to design
to, and detailed the structural properties of glulam, highlighting the design factors which can have significant
impact on cost.
McCallum’s final message to an attentive audience was “Talk to us as early in the project as possible, to enable
us to suggest engineering design solutions with glulam.”