Wood means business

Explore the global rise of timber technology in commercial buildings, offering sustainable, creative workspaces that enhance energy efficiency and promote Corporate Social Responsibility.

October 11, 2023


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Dan Scott

Marketing and Pitch Director, New Zealand

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Multi-storey commercial buildings with wooden structures at their core are springing up all over the world. From Dundee to Dunedin, engineered timber structures are commanding interest and creating benefits not only for building owners but also for the organisations and people who occupy them.

Love Your Workspace took its plaid shirt off the hanger to explore what’s driving the rise of timber technology for owners and occupiers of forward-looking workspaces.

Where are the timber office buildings?

Canada. Norway. Sweden. The Netherlands. Austria. The USA. Switzerland. Singapore. The UK. These are just some of the many places where timber-structured offices have been announced, are emerging or are already in place, alongside the many Australian cities that are also embracing wood. In Brisbane, the city’s largest urban regeneration project – the $2.9 billion King Street urban precinct led by Lendlease – is set to see 130,000sqm of office space in four commercial buildings that will be home to an anticipated 15,000 workers, customers and visitors by 2025.

Among many sustainable buildings in the precinct, CBRE is marketing the timber-structured Twenty5 King, which is drawing significant occupier interest, says Andrew Carlton, a Senior Director in the Brisbane Office, Advisory and Transactions Team. wood-means-business-25-King-Bates-1080x1080

“Twenty5 King is the largest and tallest engineered timber building in the world, setting global benchmarks for sustainability, connectivity and lifestyle – a greener, healthier way of working. Showcasing the natural benefits of prefabricated timber, with exposed timber beams and panelling, from roof to floor, it has been awarded a 6 Star Green Star Design rating. An unprecedented level of wellness thinking has seen Twenty5 King awarded Queensland’s first platinum WELL Core and Shell Certificate. It is a place designed first and foremost for people to be at their creative best.”

Walking the sustainable talk to reduce emissions

Mark Curtain, the Brisbane-based leader of CBRE’s Advisory & Transaction Services business, says that sustainability was an instrumental factor in global engineering and advisory firm Aurecon pre-committing to occupy four floors, or almost 6,500sqm of office space, in Twenty5 King Street as anchor tenant. “Aurecon sought to create a world-class working environment when searching for new office space to relocate its 600-plus people. The timber option submitted by Lendlease has helped Aurecon to achieve this, and to reduce embodied energy use by 74% compared with a reinforced concrete building over the planned 60-year building life. This sends a clear message about Aurecon’s stand on materials and sustainability, and delivers on a shared commitment to sustainability held by the developers. Lendlease has been taking a strong position of leadership in this area, as they see the value it generates not only in terms of their own sustainability goals, but also in the quality of the occupiers they can attract.”

wood-means-business-1-King-Macquarie-Group-1080x1080He adds that this approach is also spectacularly on display in Barangaroo at International House Sydney, a Lendlease project that was Australia’s first commercial office and largest commercial-scale engineered timber building to use Cross Laminated Timber and Glue Laminated Timber. “The building has been very successful. It is fully leased, and Lendlease themselves took out the final one and a half floors recently. The big draw is sustainability; the timber is a part of an overall net zero offering that most big firms are chasing. It does add a point of difference as part of a wider ESG offering, and Lendlease themselves say that a growing part of their offer is to enable occupiers to demonstrate their Corporate Social Responsibility credentials while giving their teams a truly inspirational home.”

New Zealand is playing catch-up
In Aotearoa, timber is being used increasingly in multi-storey buildings, even if mainly in sectors other than office. Prime among many sizeable projects around the country, the 9-storey, 12,000sqm Auckland City Mission: Homeground opened in 2022 to wide media coverage and a Supreme Award win at the 2022 Property Council of New Zealand Awards. In the university sector, Otago Polytechnic’s 231-bedroom Te Pā Tauira student village is New Zealand’s largest completed cross-laminated timber structure, and AUT is also embracing the trend with its A1 building’s post-tensioned LVL timber structure operating as the most energy-efficient site on campus. 

The office sector is also seeing projects get underway as their value to attract people into healthier, more sustainable workplace environments becomes more apparent. Among them, a $30m four-storey office, retail and hospitality building proposed by Portus has been given the go-ahead on the site of the former Excelsior Hotel on the corner of High Street and Manchester Street in Christchurch. Built from timber with a glass façade, the new building will be the base of the offices of Leighs Construction.

In Auckland, consent has been granted to Scentre for an eight-storey office with a mass timber core project in Nuffield Street in Newmarket, with the only remaining regulatory hurdle being permission to put two cranes on the site.

wood-means-business-90-Devonport-Rd-Tauranga-1080x1080Tauranga City Council announced in March that construction is now underway on New Zealand’s largest mass timber office building, at 90 Devonport Road. Designed to house all council administration staff under one roof, the 10,000sqm building is using engineered timber in place of most traditional concrete and steel elements, with a view to reducing embodied carbon. 

“This and other sustainable developments in the city centre represent council’s commitment to leadership for a low carbon, resilient future,” said the council at the same time as announcing that it had entered into a long-term lease arrangement on the project with Willis Bond, which is committed to incorporating mass timber building components as part of the company’s development toolkit.

A range of benefits flowing through into New Zealand offices

Nick Theyers
, CBRE’s Auckland-based Director, Office Leasing, says the flow of timber office projects in New Zealand will only strengthen due to the range of benefits they bring. “They are often more cost-effective to build, thanks to their reduced weight compared to structural steel and thus the foundations required. As we also see much more frequently these days, landlords and occupiers are aligning to drive ESG achievement, and this is leading to structural timber being given serious consideration.

“One of the most important benefits, however, is to the people that occupy the workspaces. This is not news. Independent surveys such as Planet Ark’s Wood, Housing, Health, Humanity Report as far back as 2015 found that Australians have identified wooden interiors as offering physiological, psychological and environmental benefits. They contribute to improvements to a person’s emotional state and level of self-expression, as well as reduced blood pressure, heart rate and stress levels, at the same time as improving air quality through humidity moderation.”

Theyers adds that another factor that may lead to further interest coming the way of timber emerged when an article in CoStar, the leading US-based provider of commercial real estate information, stated that mass timber buildings may provide a benefit beyond sustainability: earthquake resistance. “The article in July this year cited an experiment at the University of California, San Diego, that indicated that high-rise timber buildings are able to resist violent shaking after tests on a 10-storey timber structure. 

“So, as projects and knowledge of the possibilities of timber grow alongside initiatives to drive awareness and uptake of timber construction such as the Mid-Rise Wood Construction Partnership and the Timber Design Awards, we can expect that the popularity of timber-structured office buildings will, like a well-watered tree, only grow.”