Timber - a classic favourite for greener buildings?BY THEODORE CHAN
Even as architects all over the world conceptualised with new materials and innovative design solutions as media of creative expression , timber has long been a classic favourite. But how is timber used in homes and buildings today? Do we see it as an eco-friendly material or one that damages the environment because thousands of trees in forests have to be felled to make furniture, furnishings or building materials?
From discussions with our expert friends from the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), we understand that timber, contrary to popular belief, remains one of the most sustainable sources of building materials.
Timber is truly organic, made up of natural material that literally grows on trees. When correctly harvested and optimally exploited, they can serve as a renewable source of building materials that are both biodegradable and recyclable - two qualities that are the holy grail of sustainability.
So in this respect, AHEC must work with our building authorities to regularize its use as a truly sustainable material, which can add substantially to the Buildability and Sustainability Scores of Singapore buildings.
The recent AHEC Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study highlighted the key role of designers and manufacturers in Asia in keeping greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum and maximizing climate change benefits. Mitigation of climate change is heavily dependent on product design strategies that seek to maximize the lifetime of the product in use and promote efficient waste management.
The mitigation benefits of climate change of US hardwood lumber are particularly great for those applications where American hardwoods are substituted for alternative potentially more carbon-intensive products like metals, plastics and steel.
Here in Singapore, our architects have kept pace with the best thinkers of the design world. Timber has long been established as a material of choice for interior finishes, adding qualities of aesthetic warmth, elegance and sophistication to interior spaces.
Over the past 5 years, there is a resurgence of timber being used as an external screening and cladding material, especially in residential and commercial developments.
Beauty and finesse can be achieved, but without some problems. Timber remains one of the more costly building materials, and clients are always sceptical at first when architects recommend timber as an external material. This scepticism stems from our unforgiving climatic heat and humidity which takes a harsh toll on all
building materials in the equatorials.
But I believe that with the advancements in material and chemical treatment technology and our national high standard (sometimes obsession) of cleanliness and building maintenance, the industry standard of a 5-year façade maintenance cycle is highly achievable with timber, and that its use as an building material will gradually
So we welcome greater education and encouragement on hardwood usage in Singapore and the region. This will will bring forth new technology, variety and colour to our design industry palette. We also look forward to global contributions and collaborations with the architects of Singapore to address the challenges of cost and
maintenance on the use of timber.
To this end, the Singapore Institute of Architects is willing to join hands with non-profit organisations such as AHEC in any endeavour to develop educational programmes for all industry players in the chain - consumers, architects, builders and suppliers. This will bring about better understanding of timber technology regarding supply, use, application, construction detailing and maintenance.
Only in expounding the true virtues of timber technology and its use can we fulfil our purpose and role as custodians of nature. Humanity must care for nature, as nature cares for us.
Botanika … Elegant use of Timber as an external cladding material in an equatorial climate
Theodore EC Chan, Singapore Institute of Architects, President, Council 2012-2013