South Africa has some way to go before the timber industry shows any semblance of what is happening in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Europe. Scandinavian countries have embraced the timber culture and it is absolutely astounding to think what can be done when the skills, knowledge and will exist to use timber as a primary building material.
In some countries, timber structures become works of art. Timber’s versatility is once again reflected in this month’s international project – the Central Library Oodi in Finland – where timber is used in tandem with traditional building materials like steel, concrete and brick, to produce an extremely unique look and feel.
Unfortunately, many South Africans still regard timber as an alternative building material and associate the use of timber in construction solely for roof trusses and door or window frames. Moreover, perceptions that timber as a primary building material can only be used in small timber structures or ‘Wendy houses’ persists.
To have any sort of impact on these preconceived ideas about timber will take a concerted effort by everybody involved in the timber industry – from government to academia to the private sector and the media. The Department of Trade Industry and Competition’s (dtic) efforts of bringing all these interests together, is laudable, and should be supported, as does all the Tertiary Institutions’ initiatives, and private companies like York Timbers, who has the interest of all players at heart.
The main challenge in South Africa remains the creation of demand for timber products like Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), but at the same time developing the industry. It is a catch 22 situation. What do you do first? South Africa has more than enough raw material to develop and maintain a sustainable timber industry, but as things stand, there is almost zero demand for mass timber products. By showcasing interesting and unique projects, like the Japanese teahouse by GASS architects, we hope to contribute to the demand creation narrative and entice more South Africans to take the timber route. Although not a mass timber project, we hope to show South Africans that timber is so much more than a ‘Wendy house’ and that when combined with skill, finesse and creativity, it can become a dream space to live in.
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