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Sun 12 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Timber too?

Even with the focus on flashy glass, steel and concrete buildings, timber can still play a vital role in the Middle East if sourced sustainably. James Boley talks to Thorsten Mrosek, head of international marketing for the German Timber Promotion Fund.

Timber too?
Thorsten Mrosek. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).
Timber too?
A German Sawmill. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).
Timber too?
KVH Timber, used for load-bearing. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).
Timber too?
Public buildings built with Timber. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).
Timber too?
Public buildings built with Timber. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).
Timber too?
Public buildings built with Timber. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).
Timber too?
Public buildings built with Timber. (Image courtesy of The German Timber Promotion Fund).

Even with the focus on flashy glass, steel and concrete buildings, timber can still play a vital role in the Middle East if sourced sustainably. James Boley talks to Thorsten Mrosek, head of international marketing for the German Timber Promotion Fund.

How can timber be used in architecutre?

It's not that well known among architects, engineers and decision makers in this field what the wide range of applications of timber products are in construction and interior design.

If it comes out of sustainable forestry, timber is the only renewable building material and that is a major advantage in comparison with all other fossil-based building materials.

Those range from large-scale public and commercial buildings, to private homes, to special constructions like wide span roof construction or bridges.

In your opinion, is timber a good building material? If so, why?In Europe and North America we have very good understanding and knowledge and experience of what you can do with all these kinds of wood products.

That includes a very good technical performance in comparison with other materials like concrete or steel. There are reliable quality controls and certification schemes.

Using it during construction has a lot of benefits. Wood is a very flexible, fast and cost efficient construction material. There's lots of opportunities for high quality and innovative construction in terms of overall design and also creative interior design.

There's a high aesthetic appeal of wood construction but specifically in the Middle East in terms of interior design.

Finally there's also great potential in terms of green building, carbon-neutral construction and sustainable building.

Why do Europe and North America have a better understanding of timber than the Middle East?

I believe that many regions in the world have extensive history and tradition of using wood, and that's also true in the Middle East. But in recent developments, there has been a move towards building materials like concrete and steel because they're seen as modern architecture.

In Europe, North America and Japan, there's been a transition. There's an important role for concrete and steel but at the same time there is recognition of the tradition and potential of using wood in architecture.

In the whole framework of sustainability, very quickly the potential has been realised what wood can offer in these kinds of aspects.

What benefits are there in using timber in the Middle East?

The Middle East is characterised by a major construction boom, with a special demand for quality, high-end, innovative construction and larger scale construction. That requires different building materials than just standard wood products.

There's a lot of import of simple wood products from Eastern Europe and Asia but there's a lot of limitations with these basic wood products.

If you get into the more high-end applications, like wide span roof construction, for malls or sports arenas or hotels, there you need speciality products which are quality-controlled, engineered to some extent.Wooden parts can be engineered and quality controlled, stress controlled in order to provide reliable technical properties.

What timbers are recommended for use in the Middle East?

All the major wood species used in Europe and North America can be used in the Middle East as well.

There's quality controlled solid wood products for load-bearing structures, there's duo and trio beams which are glued to each other, or you can use glulam, where a number of layers are glued together in order to cover areas of 50m or more, for wide span roof construction.

These speciality products are obviously different from regular saw timber and show a completely different range of applications where they can be used in different ways for engineering and architecture.

There's a wide range of species available in Germany for interior design, the most important being beech and oak, which can be used for more or less everything.

Using timber would seem to imply cutting down trees, which doesn't seem very environmentally friendly. Point blank: Is timber a sustainable building material?

The term sustainability is widely used and there's a danger of using it just for green labelling, because almost every industry is using it. But wood can definitely prove it has these sustainable characteristics.

If it comes out of sustainable forestry, timber is the only renewable building material and that is a major advantage in comparison with all other fossil-based building materials. It's produced in a very energy efficient way, in comparison with high-energy input building materials like steel.

It's the only carbon-neutral building material-it actually stores carbon throughout its lifespan, with the limitation of when it's recycled at some point but that's also an advantage, that it can be recycled.

If you do a lifecycle assessment, then energy efficiency and carbon budget is very positive in a wood construction. That attracts a lot interest from the US and Japan where fuel prices are becoming a concern.

Fuel prices aren't really a concern in the Middle East, but sustainability is increasingly on the agenda in region. How can architects in the region ensure they're getting a sustainable material?

We believe that in the process of green building, there is a great contribution that can be made by wood products. At the same time, it's important that wood products come from sustainable sources. The source of wood products is a major consideration in sustainable buildings.

There's a significant flow from certain sources where there can be some debate over what extent the forest management is sustainable.

There are other regions like Europe where there's a tradition of managing forests sustainably through strict legislation. In Germany this goes back 300 years.

The first ever legislation for sustainable forests was founded in Germany in 1713. There is a long tradition in maintaining forests, in comparison to other places in the world.

The forests are also certified by Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Products from sources with this certification add value since they document it can contribute to sustainable building.

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