Multiplex's Danielle Savio gives insight into the benefits of using cross laminated timber

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Multiplex's Danielle Savio gives insight into the benefits of using cross laminated timber

Following the launch of Monash Peninsula's sustainable student accommodation, Gillies Hall – Urban.com.au caught up with Multiplex Project Manager Danielle Savio regarding the use of cross-laminated timber, building material choices and how the team went about meeting construction deadlines for the project. 

Urban.com.au: Given the size of Monash Peninsula’s student accommodation building, were there any challenges associated with using Cross Laminated Timber for a building of this size as opposed to concrete or steel?

Danielle Savio: The new highly sustainable student accommodation complex, Gillies Hall, located at Monash University’s Peninsula Campus was Multiplex’s first foray into cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction, and it was a huge success. The use of CLT has the capacity to halve the embodied carbon in the building in comparison to a concrete structure.

Cross Laminated Timber performs very well structurally and it is growing increasingly more common with several medium-rise buildings now popping up all around the world, including here in Australia. Timber is undoubtedly making a comeback as a building material due to its sustainability and aesthetic.

In terms of structure, building in CLT was simple and efficient. A CLT building is lighter so the foundations and concrete ground slab are simpler and smaller. There are less contractors and labour on site making for a safer working area, and since the material comes to site pre-cut (CLT goes together like a giant 3D timber puzzle), the site is cleaner and much easier to navigate.

There is a lot involved logistically in getting the CLT panels to site in the correct order for installation, however our sophisticated suppliers know how to execute this easily and efficiently. Essentially when it comes to CLT, it is more of an assemble rather than a build. 

Multiplex's Danielle Savio gives insight into the benefits of using cross laminated timber
Monash Peninsula Student Accommodation

U: What was the reason for sourcing the CLT from Italy rather than Australia?

DS: What was a challenge, particularly in what is a fairly immature supply chain in Australia, was getting the CLT in time for the project and at the speeds were going to be building at. As the Australian market gets more suppliers of CLT on line, supply will steady and large projects won’t be an issue, but at the time we were engaged to deliver the CLT, we really needed to look to Europe for supply.

Our Italian supplier Xlam Dolomiti worked with us to design and deliver the student accommodation. They have a real ‘hands-on’ approach and were heavily involved with our architect and engineering teams and were happy to educate us along the way.

Xlam Dolomiti also has a great relationship with Rothoblaas who supplied all the timber connecting plates and fixings for the project, so there was a seamless delivery of CLT and fixings.

U: How did you manage the logistics of building to such a tight deadline? What would be your plan of action if there was a delay in delivery of the CLT?

DS: While we were building to a tight deadline, we were extremely confident in our supply chain and all parties were very committed to the delivery program. At Multiplex, we believe it’s important to visit the supply at the source – one visit to a factory will immediately tell you whether there is capacity to produce the intended supply. We also build solid relationships with suppliers.

When it comes to potential complications in sourcing the material overseas, one major risk factor is the material’s access into Australia - unfortunately customs aren’t always predictable. There were, however, contingency plans in place in the event of any delays. Monash University was also very understanding of what delays would mean for the project.

Thankfully, intricate planning and collaboration between all parties made for a successful, on-time delivery.

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U: Do you believe CLT will be used to construct taller buildings in future – such as skyscrapers like The W350 Project in Tokyo?

DS: Yes, I believe CLT will be used to construct taller buildings in the future as CLT has amazing capabilities. The material has already been utilised on many existing taller buildings where the old foundations could only take so much concrete and steel weight.

In my opinion, the potential of timber is endless as it is sustainable, sturdy and architects love it for its character. As engineers and developers become more familiar with CLT, I’m sure it will become extremely common in construction, in particular for high-rise buildings.  

U: Japan passed a bill to ensure all government buildings up to three-stories tall should be constructed with wood or utilising wood. Do you believe this is a rule Australia could adopt in future to achieve sustainability and build efficiency?

At this stage it would be a hard rule to adopt in Australia given our limited supply chain, however a progressive movement could create the demand necessary to encourage Australia to produce more mass timber products.

Monash Peninsula was built using CLT in line with Monash University’s net zero carbon emissions strategy. The University was driven to use innovative and highly sustainable construction methods as it wanted the accommodation to be built to the most efficient and highest performance criteria possible.

For this project, we adopted a German Passive House standard for our build, which is a performance standard which sets the bar extremely high in terms of thermal performance and building envelope. The building has just been awarded Passive House certification and is now the largest Passive House building in the Southern Hemisphere.

I would love to see more large-scale Passive House projects here in Australia and I’m sure CLT will be a really big part of that.

Multiplex's Danielle Savio gives insight into the benefits of using cross laminated timber
The Passiv-haus accredited building.

U: The building features multiple solar panels, which is great for the planet and for the campus’ energy-efficiency credentials. How many Multiplex buildings have recently requested solar panel installation?

DS: Many of our projects at Multiplex, particularly our institutional work, feature large solar arrays and many others have the capacity to link future solar electrical supply. It’s great to see such significant projects adopt such a positive initiative, however as always it ultimately comes down to client objectives.  

U: Does Multiplex have a lot of say when it comes to choosing materials used?

DS: Multiplex and other builders are increasingly being engaged early in projects to influence and assist with best building practices and building outcomes for a project. In that capacity we often think outside of the box with regards to how projects will come together and this often helps a client or architect realise a design or functional outcome. And it often leads to a better financial outcome.

In this capacity, yes, we often influence what materials or construction methods will be used to deliver a project. I think this is great for a client who wants to get the best out of our expertise and the best bang for their buck.

This could include using steel or CLT in lieu of traditional construction methods or prefabricated methodologies instead of ‘build on site’.

Multiplex's Danielle Savio gives insight into the benefits of using cross laminated timber
Communal student areas

U: Which Monash building are you most proud of and why?

DS: So far, Gillies Hall is the only project we have worked on at Monash Peninsula campus, however Multiplex has completed many projects for the University including various student accommodation complexes, innovative new learning spaces, and contemporary art facilities. Recent projects include the prestigious new $81 million Biomedical Learning and Teaching Building.

I believe the new student accommodation at Monash Peninsula has set a new benchmark for student accommodation, particularly receiving Passive House certification on such a large scale. Designed by high-profile architects Jackson Clements Burrows, Gillies Hall includes communal kitchens, games rooms and principle apartments with a total floor area of 6,000 square metres.

The building is innovative and beautifully detailed and is a statement piece for the Peninsula Campus. We are thrilled to be a part of such progressive and highly-sustainable student accommodation and together, with Monash University, we have set a new industry standard for environmentally sustainable and economic construction.

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