Currently, the use of prefabricated timber building (PTB) systems in Australia is predominantly limited to truss and frame construction in Class 1 buildings, but an increasing number of high-profile large scale commercial projects utilising PTB systems suggest that there is growth potential into the commercial building sector. To leverage the momentum currently being generated by these projects and the recent changes to the National Construction Code allowing Fire Protected Timber for Deemed-to-Satisfy solutions in mid-rise construction, an increasing number of new PTB solutions are being developed and commercialised to compete with both traditional construction methods and increasingly sophisticated steel and concrete prefabricated solutions.
There is a growing awareness of both national and international developments utilising PTB systems, especially in the mid-rise sector, which is emerging as being the most suited to PTB systems. Several top-tier builders/developers have forged their own path in this field with significant investment in prefabricated timber design departments within their organisation and in actively testing their ideas on commercial projects. Some of these developments have received broad public attention through media coverage and have also been recipients of national timber design awards (Australian Timber Design Awards, 2013), (ArchitectureAU, 2014).
Industry feedback suggests that PTB systems also have the potential to increase in prominence in commercial construction across Australia as its cities and regional centres continue to grow and population density increases. Both perceived and real barriers also exist which are having an inhibiting effect on the uptake of both new and existing PTB systems.
Issues such as established conventions defaulting to steel and concrete, ensuring an accessible and affordable supply chain, ensuring tertiary, professional and industry training is effective and proactively communicating the viability and benefits of timber alternatives continue to temper opportunities for PTB systems.
The development of market ready PTB systems in Australia is in a formative stage as prefabricated timber construction is yet to achieve broad acceptance as a conventional method of building. Some sectors of the commercial building market will require regionally applied solutions, especially in places where the use of timber for low rise residential construction is less prevalent. This will be one of the challenges facing the expansion of PTB systems although, with an increase in large scale mid-rise prefabricated buildings, and with the increasing nationalisation and internationalisation of the top tier building companies, there are indicators suggesting that market acceptance will grow as an increasing volume of PTB solutions become normalised in commercial construction.
Opportunities for PTB systems can be leveraged off timber’s well-established benefits such as high strength-to-weight ratio, design and construction flexibility, general environmental credentials including carbon sequestration, and prefabrication’s suitability for use on brownfield, restricted access and difficult sites and developments.
Technical solutions are now being established for the many of the issues pertaining to PTB systems and regulative constraints have now been largely removed. The application of these solutions, the lessons learnt from applying the regulation across a broad range of building types along with continued education, will be the key areas influencing the enabling of PTB systems.