At Camp Glenorchy, all design decisions were guided by the following question: What if every single act of design and construction could make this world a better place? This principle led the project’s design team to rethink the traditional approach to using timber and to make design decisions aimed at transforming its typically linear lifecycle into one that was more sustainable.
There are many good reasons to use timber for buildings at Camp Glenorchy. Not only does it come from a renewable resource (unlike quarried materials), it also continues to store carbon for the duration of its life. Timber reduces build times, has better thermal insulating qualities than competing products³, and adds character and warmth to interior spaces.
New Zealand is considered one of the world’s top timber producers. The industry generates around 4 million cubic metres of timber every year, using mainly Radiata Pine and Douglas Fir (both introduced plant species) that come from renewable plantation forests⁴.
However, there are also some negative aspects related to the timber industry and to the way timber is most often used in New Zealand:
Timber is the primary building material in New Zealand and the environmental impacts of the timber industry are therefore large in scale. Timber is responsible for 24% of the waste generated by new residential construction, second only to plasterboard. Most of this timber has been previously treated and is hard to recycle because of the chemicals used. It, therefore, ends up in landfills or is chipped or ground up to be used as boiler fuel. Treated timber offcuts can’t be burned for space heating or for cooking food; nor are the shavings suitable to be used as garden mulch.
Disposing of timber in landfills during construction and at the end of a building’s life is costly and represents the final stage of the linear model that the life cycles of most man-made products and materials follow. Finding alternatives to transform this model into a more cyclical and sustainable one is essential.
Camp Glenorchy’s use of timber was done in full awareness of its traditional life cycle and significant efforts were made efforts towards transforming this material’s typically linear process into a cyclical one. To do this, efforts were focused two main areas: using salvaged timber wherever possible and using certified timber that was responsibly sourced. The project was also committed to reducing waste, both during construction and at the end of the buildings’ life.
Salvaged timber is mostly used for furniture and interiors, where it adds character and texture to rooms and common areas. This timber has been recovered from local sources, including a 100-year-old woolshed carefully dismantled by the project’s team, who sorted and quantified the material before storing it under cover on-site so it could be reused in various buildings.
There are multiple benefits associated with the use of this salvaged timber:
Wherever salvaged timber couldn’t be used, timber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was sourced. This international not-for-profit organisation promotes responsible forestry practices worldwide and advocates for the economic and social sustainability of the communities affected by the timber industry. FSC certified forests work to maintain biodiversity and a healthy ecology, provide education to nearby communities and prevent exploitation or illegal forestry.
By using FSC certified timber, Camp Glenorchy helped minimise the impact of the project on the ecosystems where the timber came from through best practice management and sourcing. As a result, all new timber onsite can be traced back to its origin.
Awareness of the traditional timber life cycle has also led Camp Glenorchy to use Strandboard for interior cladding, a material made of wood flakes and resin that is resistant to moisture and is fully reusable at the end of its life. It has low volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and holds a Declare label from the International Living Future Institute.
Additionally, the use of chromium and arsenic to treat timber was avoided, and a copper-based alternative was chosen instead. Camp Glenorchy also implemented an Environmental Management Plan to ensure quantities of waste during construction were minimised. Strategies to reduce the amount of timber waste included a preference for offsite prefabricated elements, avoiding offcuts and separation of waste streams to facilitate recycling.
Timber is a renewable building material that has many benefits when compared to other alternatives. It is durable and full of character. However, there is a long way to go before its use can be truly sustainable. Increasing awareness about the traditional linear model of the timber life cycle is the first step towards transforming that model into a more sustainable, cyclical one that mimics Nature.
Additional steps for design and construction teams to explore include finding new and creative ways to salvage and recycle timber, using alternative treatment methods that enable the reuse of offcuts and chips, and design that reduces waste during construction. Together these strategies should considerably reduce the amount of timber sent to landfill and have the potential to bring about positive change in the life cycle of timber.
Camp Glenorchy wants to encourage this shift by using salvaged and certified timber, and through educational resources that aim to inspire visitors. Reused timber tells a story and gives character to interior spaces while reducing the demand for virgin timber. The use of certified timber guarantees that impacts on the place the timber comes from are minimal, further helping Camp Glenorchy to reduce its environmental footprint.
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