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Making tall timber buildings fire safe

Making tall timber buildings fire safe

PhD Student, Hangyu Xu, in front of the fire test room. Credit: ARC Future Timber Hub.

The ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub to Transform Future Tall Timber Buildings (ARC Future Timber Hub) is a leading timber research collaboration, administered by The University of Queensland, bringing together experts from industry, government, and academia who are committed to the future development of safe tall timber buildings in the Pacific region.


The ARC Future Timber Hub is building a body of research evidence to guide the establishment of clear guidelines for timber-based construction for tall timber buildings in Australia.

The results for fire testing have now enabled the validation of the proposed design framework, opening the way for performance-based design of mass timber buildings by fire safety engineers.

The Hub's research team is advancing the science of tall timber construction including the development of design solutions for engineered wood products such as Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). Engineered wood products have multiple beneficial qualities including having naturally-insulative properties, advantageous structural performance, sustainability, and aesthetic features. They also use sustainably managed plantations, and prefabricated construction technologies that minimise waste while enhancing building quality and performance.

To ensure the fire-safe use of mass timber structures in tall timber buildings, researchers from the Hub have developed a design framework to define the conditions that enable the self-extinction of mass engineered timber. This is especially important for timber used in tall buildings, where there is a fear of massive conflagrations and fire-induced progressive collapse.

With industry partners including Hyne Timber, XLam, Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, Lendlease, Knauf and Rockwool International, the team conducted a series of 6 large-scale compartment fire tests to validate the framework. Each test was equipped with more than 500 sensors and a 14m-high buoyancy calorimeter used to acquire essential data for characterising the fire behaviour.

Researchers from the Hub were also among the winners of Australia’s 2020 Good Design Awards – the highest honours for design and innovation in the country – receiving a prestigious Good Design Award Gold Accolade in the Engineering Design category for their ‘Suspended Remnants’ timber pavilion, in recognition of the structure’s outstanding design and innovation.

The pavilion, a structure created from a collaboration between two Hub project teams, with additional research partners at Swinburne University of Technology, and Hyne Timber, showcased how under-valued sawmill products can be turned into value-added timber structures. The team coupled inventory constrained design with a form finding process called funicular modelling, famously used by Antoni Gaudi over a century ago.


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