By Arné Gunter of Earthworld Architects [Certified ARCHICAD User; Certified ARCHICAD BIM Manager]

Timber in the last couple of years has become somewhat of a celebrity in the construction industry, especially in Europe and North America, with the advances of technology such as Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL). But the general population is still not swayed by the benefits it holds as a sustainable and almost carbon neutral material and the endless possibilities it holds to create buildings of the future, especially in South Africa.

Timber has been used more and more in construction, especially in parts of Europe and the US. Image credit: The Constructor

Timber has been used more and more in construction, especially in parts of Europe and the US. Image credit: The Constructor

There is a misconception of what timber architecture in South Africa really is. Most people see it as a ‘Wendy House’ or a lapa or a log home and do not see it as being able to be more than a small-scale structure. Most people also have a perception that timber buildings don’t have a long-life span and are maintenance-intensive.

But with the advances in technology, we have materials such as Plywood, LVL and CLT, which makes it possible to build more complex and larger structures than before. The perception of timber preservation is probably one of the most dawned upon topics when it comes to constructing in timber but even in this sector there has been a jump in innovative preservations methodologies such as thermo-treated timber or acetylation of timber. Another principle of preservations is the way we construct with timber and the type of timber we use for the application.

Although these materials and preservation methodologies can become quite costly, it is only through innovative design with these that we can make a shift in the industry to produce quality ‘homemade’ materials which can drive timber construction as an alternative building solution.

By doing this we also educate our peers into collaborating along-side us and form a basis of skills development in timber construction. This knowledge transfer allows us to use timber the correct way and eradicates the misconceptions of timber as an alternative building material.

In conclusion, timber as an alternative building material is part of our future but it can only succeed if the misconceptions are broken by the knowledge transfer and collaboration between disciplines to create a better understanding of timber construction. It is through innovative design and collaboration that the development of such materials and methodologies will become the norm within our communities and timber construction will set its foundation as a main component of construction.