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Expert calls for more timber in city building construction

22 February, 2012

Fairytales suggest building a house out of wood can be a risky business, but according to the head of UniSA’s Zero Waste Research Centre – Professor Steffen Lehmann - the three little pigs may have been on to something.

Using more sustainable materials such as timber in city building construction is just one of the hundreds of ideas explored in the new book edited by UniSA’s Professor Steffen Lehmann and Dr Robert Crocker.

Designing for Zero Waste: Consumption, technologies and the Built Environment is the first in a series and narrows in on themes around creating a sustainable city by implementing an array of construction and design techniques/ideas.

Professor Lehmann says Australian cities, including Adelaide, have many poorly designed and inefficient buildings and he is currently working on a research project that would see more timber used in construction.

"My big passion at the moment is about constructing buildings differently in the future," Professor Lehmann said.

"Instead of steel and concrete we would have timber construction that goes up seven, eight or even ten stories – that would store carbon and provide the opportunity for timber to replace these traditional carbon intensive materials.

"We can build ten storey buildings for urban use in the city that have no steel or no concrete except for in the footings. This is possible and desirable.

"We can reduce the damage and the impact of construction by having carbon positive buildings and that’s very, very exciting. We have the opportunity to reverse some of the environmental damage our existing buildings have caused."

Professor Lehmann says the timber used in such constructions would be of equal strength to the material it replaces and wouldn’t mean damaging the environment.

"It doesn’t involve cutting down rainforests with pristine timber in Indonesia – we are not talking about that type of timber. This timber needs to come from a sustainably harvested source with a 12 year cycle, so we could set up a green supply chain with Mt Gambier pine trees for instance," he said.

Social sustainability is one of the key themes explored in the new book which develops ideas on how future cities can consume less and function more efficiently.

"The centre is very interested in cities and how to transform cities to use fewer materials to produce less waste and use less energy, water, and to grow food locally. Then if you add a greater focus on recycling - that is my idea of a more sustainable city," he said.

Professor Lehmann says a lot of the waste issues faced in urban areas are centred around the attitudes of people who consume too much.

"Why do people want a second fridge? Why do people want big cars like hummers? Why can’t people drive less? We see a lot of young people have a limited relationship with nature and do not value tree planting," he said. 

"Attitudes are changing too slowly, in fact we see people wanting bigger houses to fill with stuff. We now have the largest homes in the world – bigger than the US – and they are badly designed and heavily dependent on air-conditioning. These are things we can change but they require education and attitude change as well."

The Earthscan Series on Sustainable Design’s first book - Designing for Zero Waste: consumption, technologies and the built environment will be launched at 6pm Thursday, February 23 at the Allan Scott Theatre – City West Campus.

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Goldie | Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 3:39 PM
I don 'that've a problem with sustainability in anything we do but I struggle when people like the good professor here ask questions like; "why do people want a second fridge" and why do people want big cars like hammers". Perhaps it is because some people simply want 2 fridges whilst others are happy with one. Also a larger vehicle like a hummer may be needed for someone who tows heavy things or simply just likes them. I could ask nonsensical questions too like why do people drive micro cars and then complain about their vulnerability if involved in a crash with other vehicles on the road. Or why do some people have air conditioning and others get by with fans. The answer to both is simple and that is people are exercising their right of choice much to the chagrin of those who feel they should have the right to tell others what they will and won't have according to their take on the world. I don't know what the professor drives but I imagine he exercised his right of choice and is no doubt please with it. Let others do the same.
Grace McCaughey | Thursday, March 1, 2012, 3:46 AM
Well done Steffen Lehmann. This is great thinking and timber is one of the best building materials. We need alos to look at clay and mud brick. Many multi-level middel eastern mudbrick buildings are still standing after 1000s ofn years. Nader Kaklili, the late Iranian architect's dream was to house the less well off in homes built from the soil on their block of land. Goldie, you demosntrate besutifully ypour total ignorance of our finite world. Don't you kniow that we will run out of the metals and minerals required to build big cars and fridges? You need to check out 'embodied energy'. We all need to learn that less is more and that true happiness can only be gsined by reducing our requirements to a minimum-- see Henry Thoreau 1856. We do NOT have a choice of second fridges and hummers. Think 2012-the year of wisdom.See also Zero Emissions.
Ufuk | Friday, March 16, 2012, 6:47 PM
Solar energy is lrbriohy inefficient, it only converts appx 3-4% of the energy available it, it costs a fortune to. i would suggest using a different form of renewable source. use solar energy to heat you water (very simple non-electrical system black hose-piping within a black box supprisingly effective for what you may thtink it is, this also saves money on electricity. You could convert your central heating to a heat engine system (loads of info online about it) expensive outlay but unlike solar cells very efficient with it.other than that common household electrical requirements nowadays are sickening and really need the national grid juice to power it. If you have a river/stream by your house tha can easily be harnessed to power all your lights, refridgerator and basic amenities however how many ppl actually have a stream LUCKY BAS***D'S!Good luck with What ever you do, any one cutting down their fuel useage is good!!!
Brenda | Monday, March 19, 2012, 12:10 PM
leave the trees in the ground. How long does it take to replace the carbon sink of one tree? How much carbon escapes into our atmosphere when 1 tree is cut down. Yes dead trees continue to give off carbon. How much carbon is contributed through cutting down trees. Mono culture is an environmental disaster, just look at Tasmania's eucalyptus plantation and the concentrated run off of natural but toxic oils escaping into the water supply. think again.
L Stuart | Monday, March 19, 2012, 12:49 PM
Can anyone tell me the difference between our largest contributor of carbon dioxide which is deforestation and cutting down of hectares of trees to use in building industry? when we cut down a plantation of trees today, they begin to die, leaf litter dies, old unusable branches are probably burnt, then heavy trucks transport to mills, then transported again, then again transported to the manufacturer, possibly made into very heavy frames and trusses, still giving of carbon dioxide all the time. Once made into building materials its transported once again, now needing large cranes and big trucks to maneuver into place, probably treated with another deadly toxin to stop termites but still giving off carbon dioxide as dead trees do. It takes years for those trees to be replaced and everyone knows how toxic mono culture plantations are to our environment. Using plantation timber is such a contradiction. it sounds like this is a biased opinion of the company Gunns and their own experts. Who are these so called experts anyway? I keep hearing the best way to stop global warming is to grow more trees ~ not grow more trees and cut them down!