New timber frame build holds promise of ‘plyscrapers’ for Dublin

Mass engineered timber already responsible for multi-storey wooden buildings in Europe

Dublin’s skyline could be dotted with “plyscrapers” in years to come if planners embrace a new timber frame technique for sustainable building, a conference will hear on Monday.

The emergence of mass engineered timber (MET) has seen multistory buildings such as the 14 storey Treet in Bergen, Norway, and the 10 storey Trafalgar Place in London spring up in recent years.

Confederation of Forest Industries (CONFOR) technical director Andrew Heald said the technique behind such so-called plyscrapers helps the natural environment in two ways - first by growing conifer trees which sequesters carbon from the atmosphere and second by using of timber which saves on concrete and steel.

Mr Heald says the technique works by gluing small pieces of timber together to create a big beam to replace its steel counterpart. Floor sections can be built in a factory and transported on site.

“It’s old technology in that it is timber, but it is new technology in how it is glued together and held together,” he said.

Mr Heald said a switch to timber frame construction presents a big challenge in the supply of timber. Both Ireland and the UK have some of the lowest levels of forest cover in Europe.

He said there would be a need for more forests of white coniferous timber because it was easy to work it and easy to paint.

Ireland’s wet and mild climate was ideal for producing a quick growing timber crop within 25 years, he added.

Mr Heald is speaking at a conference organised by the Ibec Forest Industries Ireland body at the Botanic Gardens on Monday.

Forest Industries Ireland director Mark McAuley said there was “enormous potential” for the industry which would double in size in the next 10 years.

He said the UCD student and sports centre, completed in 2012, was an example of what could be done in timber frame construction and “we are only getting going in this space”.

The Belfield facility extensively used glue-laminated timber elements and timber teams, notably in the swimming pool and gym.

The Government’s climate change targets sees a goal of increasing forest cover in Ireland from 11 per cent to 18 per cent, but Mr McAuley said this was a long term goal which may take 100 years.

“There is enormous potential in the industry to tackle climate change and we have plenty of available land.”

In the UK, the Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) has called for the creation of a 40,000 new hectares of forest by 2030 to bring woodland levels back to where they were in the 1970s.

Conifers are much better than natural forestry had taking carbon out of the atmosphere. A conifer forest can take up to eight times the amount of carbon out of the atmosphere as conifer trees are very efficient at turning carbon into timber.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times