Mass Timber Construction Podcast

Special Guest - Nick Hewson - Continuing the Conversation in Mass Timber Construction

January 31, 2024 Paul Kremer Season 4 Episode 190
Mass Timber Construction Podcast
Special Guest - Nick Hewson - Continuing the Conversation in Mass Timber Construction
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Embark on a transformative adventure with Paul as he sits down with Nick Hewson, a trailblazer in the mass timber industry. Our conversation travels through Nick's pivotal career moments, from his early fascination with megastructures to his influential role in championing cross-laminated timber down under. As we swap stories of our collaborative ventures, you'll hear how Nick's move to Australia marked a new chapter in advancing sustainable construction in a burgeoning market.

Sustainability is no longer a niche concern but a central priority reshaping the construction industry, and this episode doesn't shy away from the heart of this evolution. We trace the global surge in mass timber projects, acknowledging the profound shift from cost to environmental consciousness within the sector. With insights into how international climate agreements like COP26 have spurred on industry changes and the potential for offsite construction to revolutionize productivity and housing, we confront the challenges and celebrate the victories of sustainable construction head-on.

Prepare to join Timber Dialog, a dynamic forum born from a passion for open exchange among timber construction professionals. We dissect the intricate dance of designing buildings for reuse and ponder the exciting potential for a circular economy in our industry. The dialogue extends an invitation for you to become part of the conversation, as we look ahead to future milestones in mass timber construction, and the positive global impact we can forge together.

Website: https://www.timberdialog.com/

Nick's Business: https://www.arboralis.com.au/


Production by Deeelicious Beats
Music "Game Play" by Quality Quest
Podcast is a Mass Timber Construction Journal Production
www.masstimberconstruction.com

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Bruce Buffer:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are live. This is the moment you all have been waiting for. It's time for the global sensation, the one, the only the undisputed heavyweight podcast in the world the Mass Timber Construction Podcast. And now here's Paul Kremer, your host.

Paul:

Good morning, good afternoon or good evening. Wherever you're on the world today, Welcome to the Mass Timber Construction Podcast. My name is Paul Kremer, as ever, your host, and today we have an extra, extra, extra special guest, and I'm just a special guest with us. I've known this particular guest for a number of years. We've worked closely here in Australia and abroad, and it is a delight to finally have him on the podcast. We actually planned on having this podcast about three years ago in the summer. We were going to do it poolside with some cocktails, but we've ended up doing it on a rainy day in Melbourne. It's overcast, it's 18 degrees and we're on Zoom. But please welcome, nick. Nick, would you like to introduce yourself and please tell our listeners who you are. I'll be a bit about your journey, which is significant, everybody, and what you're doing now.

Nick:

Thanks so much, PK. I'm sorry it's taken so long to organize this catch-up. It's been a number of years but we'll get to have those poolside cocktails soon. But my name is Nick Houston. I'm founder and director of a brand new company called Arbor Alice, which I'm sure we'll talk about later. But my background is instructional engineering. So I sort of started my career in the UK. I graduated from the University of Bath in about 2005. So I hadn't really done any timber at that point. I came out of there expecting to work on skyscrapers, giant bridges. My friends and I said that we were going to have a consultancy called a mega-Newton consultancy where I would get to work on giant things, that we had to work in mega-Newton's because we weren't interested in the small scale stuff. So I then joined a small booty practice called Technica in London and the path of my life changed at that moment. The lens that I got to see engineering through there has shaped my whole perception of the construction industry. In a moment of serendipity, the week I started at Technica was the same week that KLH UK and they were looking for some office space and we happened to have some and we've been talking about some projects. So Carhartt, spice and Craig Liddell are pretty well known in the mass timber industry. We're working in the corner of the office and basically started the same week I did so. It became this sliding doors moment where I happened to join at the same time and we were trying to build one of the first CLT projects in the whole country and it was a small end of Terry's CLT house in North London. It had been on our books for a while. We tried to design it in concrete, we tried to design it in steel. Nothing was really stacking up. And then, through an introduction through the architect I think, they met Carl instead of Drayfair and said all about this CLT stuff. We thought, ok, what's interesting? It looks new, we'll have a look. So we were having a translate, german codes and things and rely on this technical information and try to figure out what on earth this was, this material and thanks to Isaac KLH for helping teachers we built this end of Terry's house Some kind of funky cantilevers and stepped floor profiles and things, and I kind of got to the end of that and I spent weeks and weeks worrying about analysis and timber and was this really the right material for it? And then you sort of go together over a matter of days on site and you got to walk around it and touch it and feel it and you just like this is incredibly capable material that has so many applications that you can touch parts of construction that other materials just can't. So that was my kind of my genesis into mass timber and it's only grown from there. So in 2010 I took the plunge. During the GFC, everything in the UK had slowed down and I went travelling around Southeast Asia and ended up kind of back in London and all the people I met on that trip were sort of moved on to Australia and, so to say, right, it's time to go and experience a different country and a different way of doing things. So six months later I found a job over here and moved across to Melbourne and then found I was sort of one of a handful of people in the country that even could spell CLT. It was a brand new material and I've really sort of found that niche and that's been a great kind of opportunity for me ever since. That's where you and I kind of met back in the days that have trying to push mass timber in Australia and really try to introduce it to the industry. It was a brand new technology that no one had ever used at that point and trying to convince people to take a plunge on it, so it's been an incredible journey since then.

Paul:

Yeah, and I think that the interesting thing within this whole conversation that you've just shared with everyone is, as you said, the sliding door moment, that serendipitous moment that there's this particular group trying to establish themselves in the UK market and then there's this flourishing of ideas and ideation coming from one project, and I think to me that's the key to the unlocking of the technology in new markets. So people often ask you know, how do I establish myself in a market where I don't have mass timber? And in fact I was speaking to someone from South Africa yesterday and it's actually the evangelical approach that a person has to say you know what? I'm going after this because I think this is going to be a significantly important part, and without that sort of evangelism around the technology, it would never have got that showcase product or that project. Or you know, for the guys in Chile at the moment, we said go and build a showcase in the town square, the major city square, just to show someone what it's like. And then the connection to that with you was this tactility, right. So how do you touch this thing? How does it feel when you walk around it? How does it like when you go through it? That to me conjures these emotions for mass timber, I guess.

Nick:

Yeah, I mean we were lucky in Australia. I think we had, you know, a number of people that had sort of picked up on that technology and were really pushing it hard, you know, with at least sort of being one. But you know, all of those earlier doctors were going away through a lot of challenges and they came to regulations detailing that knowledge and trying to translate some of the thinking from a European context into an Australian context. We build slightly differently, we have different regulations and requirements, and trying to translate that across was a big challenge, particularly in those early days. And you know I was very lucky at that time. I was dealing with an ex-comrade who I was robbed of the brink at, who ended up joining XLAM, and then they, when they sort of were, announced that they were setting up a plant in Australia. You tap me on the shoulder and say, do you want to come across to the supply side? And that was a leap for me that I also said well, this is something I'm not kind of familiar with. I just thought I'd be a consult engineer all my life and decided it was such a, you know, to have an opportunity and get to work with people of caliber of Paul Krimmer and Rob the Brinkhand and some of the other people around in the organisation at the time, and you too mate, likewise, rob and I. And that was some of the best, probably the best decision in my career and I think I'm at sliding doors at the moment, I suppose making that plunge to move to another side of the industry, and what you know the way I talk about that was this sort of this. You know, this sort of perspective widening that I had. You know, I thought from a structural engineering sense I sort of knew a lot about the material, but when you sort of go to the manufacturing side, you see a whole different angle to it. You know the whole process that goes into it. You know from the log to site and everything in between, and you know, when you get to kind of understand the nuance of that, that process, and then you know you start to go back to all the decisions that you made on previous projects and go, well, I wouldn't do that that way now, because now I know how the process works, I'd change that detail, you know, I'd process that panel differently or I'd think differently about the way I'm designing. And that was a real eye-opening kind of experience for me and I absolutely, you know, had incredible time there and it was really, you know, a really kind of industry-leading charge that we were you know we were doing, you know, having to go out there and sort of you know, pound the pavements and try to convince people to come along this journey with us. It was great fun and it, you know, personally, for me it opened up a lot of doors and I probably had no right of opening for someone at my kind of experience level and it's been, you know, ever since then. It's helped my position in the industry and my reputation and it's really helped kind of to charge my development as well.

Paul:

Yeah, and I think that it was uncharacteristic of an organisation to set up to have people that were so committed. You know, we spoke about this evangelical approach. I think that's what X-Lan really was. It was this collective of people trying to take on the world and transform it and, whilst we probably didn't do it in big leaps and bounds, we chipped away and that was what he had and that was what was important and that created a foundation for changing in thinking, which then begets a change in action and behaviour. So I think that the transformational nature was not just necessarily for the organisation itself and what we're doing. It was for each of us as well, and I think if we had Rob on the podcast too, he'd probably agree. It was a similar thing and we went from X-Lan to Veriti and tell us a little bit about differences between going from a mass timber focus superstructure to now looking at the entire building, including its cladding, internal linings, structural systems and assembly.

Nick:

Yeah, and that was another kind of, I think, sort of moment again. Again I got to a point where I said I knew once I know everything there is to know about mass timber by any means, but I knew a lot about that. Then to go to a company that was doing timber-based prefab and we had capability in lightweight framing particularly. We had automated wall and floor and roof lines and we were doing a kind of DFMA kit-aparts approach to building Still using mass timber. So CLT and GLULAM, we're developing hybrid products. We had a timber concrete floor system, a proprietary one that we developed as well, and that was really fascinating because what that allowed the business to do was to be to pick from a range of solutions. We could package together lightweight framed preclad walls with CLT floors, a megawatt of roof or the composite floor system, and we could always pick and choose the elements for their job, whatever they needed to do for structure, firing, acoustics, that sort of thing you do always meant that we could come up with cost-effective solutions and because they were all coming through the one business, they could all be coordinated. I think we found that Some of the sectors that we were very, very effective in, but some of the lower-rise buildings one, two, three-story schools. We did a lot of work for defence in housing, marrying together mass timber for certain components and then using lightweight framing for others. That was an incredibly cost-effective way of building because we're not putting a lot of extra fibre that maybe you don't need for structural purposes in your walls. The ability to preclad things as well was just meant. Things could be much, much faster on site. The challenge with that is the more that you take on, the more components you offer. That sort of matrix of complexity when you get to sort of junctions just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And the more you take on, the more risk you take on and the more kind of design resource that you need to be able to deliver that is just gets bigger and bigger. It's a really complex thing when you get into full-on preclad walls that are two-hour, fire-rated, acoustically-rated external walls, all kind of pre-lined windows, pre-instored. There's a lot of detail that you need to do and the regulatory landscape in Australia is very challenging as well. You've got to justify every screw, every bit of sealant, every gasket. It's got to have a test certificate with it for fire, for weatherproofing, for acoustics. It's mind-boggling. I thought it'd be a lot simpler before I started there. But even one kind of junction can take hours and hours to resolve from a DFMA perspective and to get sufficient documentation that you can support it from a compliance perspective.

Paul:

Given that it's probably would it be 15 years now for you in this game in Timber.

Nick:

Yeah, maybe a bit longer, maybe more like 18 years now 18 years.

Paul:

In the 18 years almost two decades I've got a theory. Someone said to me what's the unit of measure of change in the construction industry? I said, well, it's certainly not a year and it's certainly not 18 months like the computing industry with the changing nature of processing. Someone said, well, what is it? I said, well, I actually think that if you think about it in terms of 50-year blocks and you have milestone stages in decades, it's probably about right. The reason I say that is because there's conceptualizations for theories like bathroom pods, modular construction, that were developed back in the 50s and the 60s that are now starting to come to fore. But because the industry is starting to transform, it's taken that long for that logic and thinking and intelligence to catch up to the supply chain industry or the other way around. Two decades, you would have seen a substantial shift. What was the biggest shift? From that moment that the KLH team took space in your office to now delivering buildings here around the world and looking at the explosion with mass timber in markets like the US?

Nick:

That's a good question. I think it's certainly. You do find in those new markets, those early years of toil. It's a lot of effort to get a single building off the ground and your hit ratio between the number of buildings that you're involved with and your concept, your try to get across the line to the ones that actually get built, is very, very low. I think it's a lot higher. These days. People understand that it is a viable material that people are using Early pioneers. There's dozens, if not hundreds, of buildings now around Australia and thousands around the world that have done this. You don't need to be that guinea pig anymore. It still has its challenges, but many materials do. I think the biggest change I've seen has actually come fairly recently. In the last couple of years in Australia at least, being most exposed to, has come around sustainability and the level of sophistication and speed that that's changed. That has been dramatic. I can recall how many projects that we looked at early days at Exlam that were interested in timber. They liked the idea of sustainability only if it came cheaper and it was always a nice to have but it was down the bottom of the list, to be honest, and I think through things like COVID, through much more accept, wider acceptance of climate change and even some of the extreme weather events we've been having. I think suddenly, particularly Australia has already woken up to that. I mean maybe sort of been in denial for a while and the clients are now coming to us and now looking at carbon accounting and the EPDs they want. Sustainability is at the top of their agenda. It's above costing in some cases and then we want to do the right thing first and if we have to pay a slight premium for that, then that's okay with us because that's our commitment. But that change has happened really quickly, much faster than I ever anticipated. That in the last two years has really shifted the conversation a lot here and I think that's only gonna strengthen the case for more most timber buildings in Australia.

Paul:

I couldn't agree more. I think the actual point in time was COP26. If we think about the political agenda at COP26 for countries like Australia we didn't have a carbon emissions target that sort of aligned with the rest of the world. But when our prime minister had to go to COP26, all representatives of they had to have a number with them. So then they had a number and they committed to, and it was actually the first time that many nations around the world had a number and they committed to it. And I think that has been the genesis. And so I quite often talk about carbon being the unit of measure for sustainability. And so we now see food labeling in Europe that talks about the embodied carbon involved in producing that food product. And people are making a choice, a conscious choice between the higher and the lower, based on the economics, of course, and their favorite taste, I would presume if it's food or product selection. And I think that's what's really changed and challenged our approach. And on top of that, when you have sort of semi-government initiatives like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation saying, look, we're gonna fund this stuff because we believe that this is a way forward to reduce the emissions for carbon, there's actually this sort of representation from government that they're actually serious about it. And I think we now are starting to see a genesis into the next sort of decade, for if we look at the Forte building being the start of the first decade, 2022 being the end of that decade, the next 10 years, I think, is gonna be all about adaptive reuse, it's gonna be densification, it's gonna be sustainability, it's gonna be this unit of measure and how do we get it down? And I couldn't agree more with your sentiments about sustainability. And do you think that it's accelerated because and you may mention that this that people are probably accepting sustainability more now? But is it also industry changing? Do you think that the industry itself is starting to accept other alternative methods, because maybe there's enough critical, massive projects which are being successfully built around the world?

Nick:

Yeah, I think there's certainly that wider acceptance now is you say it's been over a decade since Forte was built in Melbourne. That was the first kind of big project over here and now we've got hundreds of projects around the country that have used timber and I think there's there's an increasing acknowledgement of the fact that productivity we know in the construction industry has sort of been flatlined for decades and that we need to embrace more offsite, more technology in the way that we build and to improve that productivity. We're in the midst of a housing crisis in Australia, as I guess many countries probably around the world are. We're having to build hundreds of thousands of homes. At the same time we've got builders going bus and we've got incredibly high supply prices for certain products like concrete, because there's an infrastructure boom going on as the government's trying to fill in decades of infrastructure that hasn't been going ahead. So it's I think the time is right for NMC, for timber, for offsite construction. Certainly the even the first few weeks of my business existing the number of inquiries that have come in from large corporates, from government that are really kind of desperate for quality information and to understand what the capability of the market is and how does it need to grow and what can we do now? What can we do in the next five years? So it's really I can see a huge kind of wave of interest coming. I think that the challenge that we're gonna have is how to meet that demand. There's certainly a lot of interest and demand, but the supply chain is still relatively green. Here there are some people doing some incredible stuff, but we have a kind of challenge in Australia with the population density sort of being concentrated in small clusters. There are a long way away, so you've got a relatively small market. So it's a challenging thing to put an investment in and set up a pre-found company when your potential market is relatively small. So I think I'm seeing kind of more even more kind of institutional development sort of businesses that have these pipelines of houses that they're trying to deliver getting into that space themselves and making that investment to service their own pipeline. I think that's one potential way that we start to really push the needle. I'm seeing potential for more government again, government-led initiatives around timber and MMC and sort of mandating certain quantities of projects to be done in that way. So I think we'll see a certain leadership from government in that respect and in some of the more socially aware large corporates as well, doing something similar. So I think it's a really exciting time, but it's gonna be a lot of capability needed. We know that we've had a real challenge with resource in the construction industry as it is and by every measure that the number of young people entering the construction workforce is getting lower and lower. As people are, there are other options out there, and working on a building site and whether all times a year hammering in nails and things is not gonna be attractive. So that prefab industry is ripe to kind of capture more people because it's cleaner, it's drier, it's more technology focused, so which is something that they're all very familiar with now growing up in this sort of digital age. So there's a lot of drivers pushing towards that space. It can be a little bit chicken and the egg, though it's a hard industry. That kind of just suddenly start. You could start a builder on site with relatively little outlay, but to set up a prefab factory and kind of smarts, the understanding, the equipment that they go on to make that cost effective is in a small manner to get that set up. So I think I'd love to see kind of more kind of grants, funding from government and, like I said, large corporates, large kind of developers with a pipeline, looking to kind of vertically integrate and sort of set up their own facilities to help service that.

Paul:

You hit an important nail on the head and that is that there needs to be more investment in the sector to try and make I'm specifically talking about biobased technologies, but built by nature. Who's effectively part of the Lauders Foundation has actually today just launched an international grant award for about 500,000 pounds. I think the top prize is 250,000 pounds to look at innovative ways to deliver businesses that support the built environment through construction using biobased materials. So I think there is someone out there listening, at least at a global level, and I hope local governments pick up on that. And yes, it's a good thing that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation here funded and funds projects. They funded the T3 project here in Melbourne. We need more investment and not only that. We need enough people that can actually understand this and able to think in systemised terms to be able to take what is ideally a dream to start with and transform it to reality, and we can't do it with highly manual plants. I think that's the key thing from what you've said. You and I both have been part of the very highly manual plant in New Zealand with 75 staff running for a week, versus the eight staff that run a shift in Rodonga for the highly automated plant, and the difference between those two is you either pay for the ongoing high labour costs for the manual plant or you pay for the upfront investment in the automated plant, and so you've got to work out those economic drivers as well. So investment, yes, have a dream. Someone needs to deliver that, and then you've got to work out how that economic stacks up, and I think that's the challenge at the moment. Someone needs to strategically think through that right.

Nick:

Yeah, I think it's not an easy situation in Australia because of that sort of disparate locations that the populations are centred around and those markets can be challenging to sell enough product to make that realistic. So yeah, I see I'd love to sort of see more potentially even government setting up some of this stuff to deliver on some of their pipeline of work as well. But that's a good idea and government don't necessarily see eye to eye sometimes.

Paul:

But again, it's the dream. Right, you've got to have the dream. Someone's got to translate the dream, which is why I mentioned that specifically. So what do you think is the top three or one, depending on whether you want to be very brief challenges that you think are going to happen for mass timber moving forward, because we've gone through this first decade, it's now somewhat established and other places, like America, are going through that first decade now and they'll hit the same point. So, for people, our biggest audience is the US. So, for people who are listening to this podcast, in seven years time from this moment, which will be the end of their first decade, what are the challenges you think are happening for us here in Australia that we could forecast and accelerate responses to in other places around the world?

Nick:

Good question. I think that the timber industry as a whole at least my experience in Australia has been very fragmented. I don't think it's had much of a unified voice. That sort of cuts through, as well as maybe some other materials. I think we need to take more lessons from other materials and other supply chains and build more vertical integration. I think it's too much for a main contractor in some cases to do it must in the building in Australia because they may procure the CLT from one manufacturer, the GLULAM for another, they may get someone else to install it, they may procure their own products to do whether protection during construction. They're having to coordinate too many different parties really at the moment and you compare it to a post-tension concrete frame here and then you go to one subcontractor who does it all they provide the formwork, they're doing the mesh, they pour the concrete and they deliver it at the end of the day. And I think that's always for me being an area where Tim needs to improve and then to build more vertical integration. Even back into the design one of my new business that I set up at Arborales I must have seen a kind of gap between what sort of information is supplied to manufacturers and what's actually needed to manufacture from. There's a large gap there in terms of that level of detail and understanding and integrating DFMA thinking into the design at the early stage and really turning a conceptual design into something that can be fabricated to the sort of tolerances that we need to fabricate to. So I think there's a strong need for more people to operate in that space, and whether that's someone independent like myself, or whether that's the suppliers having to upskill, I think there's space for both. But yeah, I'd say that's my number one challenge is just making it easier by offering better integration through that supply chain. There's certain challenges that we see technically as well. Around fire, in particular in Australia, is a big one, but no one might. My pet topics is water management during construction and in service, and something I think that we need to do better as an industry is to have that feedback loop, so being able to take those lessons learned from each project and feed them back into those front-end designers and clients that are doing the next one. There's been a bit too much of a culture of we've done the project now, so everything we learn on that we're going to keep to ourselves, because that's our intellectual property. That's our competitive edge. The amount of fire testing that's been done on Connections here just kind of boggled my mind. But we need to kind of be more open because we ultimately kind of want to grow the pie. We want to grow the mast in the pie for everyone, we want to make it easier for everyone and then everyone stands to kind of benefit and get a bigger piece of it. But having this kind of insular attitude I think is something that needs to change. I think it will. I think as people start to kind of realise that the value of some of these IP and stuff that they've been desperately holding on to for years maybe isn't worth as much as maybe they thought it was, and then that benefit from collaborating, creating design or manufacturing standards, documents that the industry can look to. Because one of the biggest criticisms I get when I'm trying to speak to people that Timber is it's all too hard, the fire is hard, acoustics is hard, water tightness is hard and I don't know where to go for information and everyone tells me something different and every project seems to have a slightly different fire engineering approach depending on the use, who's running it, which states it, and there's too much kind of fragmentation and that just kind of fuels this perception that it's an awkward, difficult material to work with and I think we need to do a better job at sharing some of those lessons and creating documents, guides to standardize codes or whatever it needs to be to corral designs and the certification pathway down, down a much easier, straighter road than it is at the moment.

Paul:

And so do you think that currently, the design guides, even the ones we worked on and developed for X-Land, do you think they're deficient in that area? Do you think that they yes, they're about the product and dimensioning and specifying and looking at loads and starting to sort of size up in a very sort of, you know, augmented way what the building will be like. But what you're talking about it seems to be something more about that at the almost the consumer level right, the AEC being the consumer here where an architect can open up a portfolio and go all right, this is how I go about doing this. Is that the extension? You think that, say, suppliers have a place to mention in their documents?

Nick:

Yeah, I think there's a need for a kind of you know, a better roadmap on how to deliver these projects for clients, for architects at that stage. Because I said you know I was. You know, I think one of the things that the Zimba industry is also sometimes guilty of is it sometimes kind of operates in a bit of an echo chamber, like it's a. You know, we're all passionate about the product and we all think it's wonderful. We'll get the answer to everything and you know we often at events, you know sprucing it, but we're often speaking to ourselves. You know it was a client function last night and you know, speaking to a number of different people about it, and the general construction industry still doesn't know what it is Like. They may have heard of CLT, they may have some idea of Timba, but a lot of people, like I, didn't realize. You know, I thought it was just for houses, I thought, you know, you can build a multi-story tenor story office out of it. Oh wow, how does?

Paul:

that work.

Nick:

What about fire? Isn't it bad to cut down trees? Because you know that's, you know they're taking in carbon dioxide and give us oxygen? Sure it's bad. You know, that kind of wider education piece for them and that education piece for the industry I think is at least in Australia, is not cutting through yet to other members of the public. You know, and that's something that all the suppliers, the various associations and things need to work harder at, you know it's such a crowded marketplace with so many different options and materials and systems and things these days that you know it's easy to get drowned out. And you know, I think there's a perception still that Timba is. You know it's difficult, it's more expensive. You know some of this maybe has been as a result of projects that are a decade old and maybe they were awkward and maybe they were more expensive. And you know, but technologies and times change. So you think, having to constantly keep that message going and updating it with latest facts and figures. And you know, keep in front of mind because you know some people are still going on something that they heard from someone at an event 10 years ago that you know, don't look at Timber. Yet it's, you know, messed him. It's not ready yet and it's like well, it now is. Like you know, we've done enough of these. We've delivered on enough of this. We know enough to better do this now, but it still just needs to be made easier for clients and designers to use as a material.

Paul:

And it's the same with prefab right. So, as a function of working with prefab, it's the same thing. Oh, don't you just deliver almost like Caravan or all are the type boxes that are temporary and school portables? You know that's prefab right. And so this industry perception needs to change, and the reality is that. You know, when we did the works and the calculations back, you know, three years ago, we said that we estimate that mass Timbers 1.6 of the global concrete poor proportion of material in the world for construction, and so at 1.6%, you know, if you extrapolate that out and we take away that echo chamber sort of vernacular where we think that everyone in the room represents everyone in the industry, the reality is that's not the case, right? So cutting through is really important, and so do you have a solution for trying to generate that conversation, nick?

Nick:

Yeah, I'd love to talk to more people about it and to, you know, to try to take it more mainstream. I think one of the things that I've been, you know, in my last few years is trying to normalise timber in conversation. So, you know, rather than you know it's got to be, it's got to be a timber building. You know it's got to be all timber beams, timber comps, timber slabs, timber cores. You know it's got to be. This sort of purist approach is to take a more realistic approach. You know it's using the right material for the right job and timber can be a component of that. So you can have hybrid buildings, you can have hybrid materials themselves. You can take timber and concrete to it and make a timber concrete composite floor. Where you could, you know, use carbon fire, there's steel reinforcing. You know it's all about trying to get more timber into more buildings and to sort of normalise it so that it's not a. It doesn't have to be a. You know a highly complex, you know fully timber building. But if you could get CLT slabs into, you know 25% of office towers that were going up to replace some concrete slabs, like you know, that's a step-changing in terms of, you know embodied carbon of those buildings and getting you know that more timber into more buildings and then just everyone just accepts it, then it's just, you know there's another solution, it's another material that we can use and it just becomes a product, that sort of slots into the construction industry and you're not, you know, you're not battling maybe trying to make the entire structure out of timber when maybe there doesn't need to be, maybe that's not the most efficient use of material. Or, you know, maybe the compliance pathway is easier if you don't, you know, try to make everything into a sauna timber box. You know that's, that's, that's that's be realistic about it, that's, you know that's that's just normalize it. I say, is that, that's? That's? I kind of the way, I'm kind of trying to sort of think about it and talk about it. It's, it's, it's just another material. There's nothing to be frightened of it.

Paul:

And have an authentic conversation, because I think that's the other side to this coin, right? We? We hear these outside of the presentations and outside of the people that present to us. When you're off to the side having that conversation and it might be over a meal or a drink the truth comes out about some of these projects, but none of that ever really reaches the light of day and I think that that conversation needs to keep going. The mass timber construction journals been going for six years now. We'll be in our 70 next year. That's both the social media platform and the academic journal. This podcast will be three years at the end of December and we'll be into our fourth next year. But you've just recently tried to join the conversation and you've established timber dialogue and you know there's a call out here on the podcast right now to to go to timber dialogue and you can give the email address or the URL. But tell us a little bit about what the intent is for that, how it sort of came about, and you know what sort of uptake have you got so far and how do people get onto the timber dialogue website and contribute to the conversation?

Nick:

Sure, I mean that's it's been a little bit of a passion project for myself and a few ex-colleagues. So there's a few of us in that sort of engineering space that have worked with each other and various companies over the last couple of years and we had a little WhatsApp support group which you know, we found really valuable because, you know, each of us is working to different suppliers. You know we're often, you know, pushing boundaries, trying to find out information, new ways of doing things, and sometimes you just want people to bounce ideas off, ask a question. You know, do you have any documents or information on, you know, this subject or that one, and what do you guys think? And that's been incredibly valuable and what we were, we were sort of realized was actually, you know, the industry needs this. You know there needs to be a better, you know, feedback mechanism, more of a community feel, more of a, you know, sort of open and honest sharing of information. I said earlier, like you know, we don't do a great job at, you know, feeding back real, real lessons learned from projects, like there's been a lot of. You know we've been in a space in the industry where we've been trying to promote timber for a long time and everyone was very quick to talk about the benefits. But people are less keen to maybe share some of the challenges and some of the things that they would do differently next time. And I think you know we sort of saw this opportunity to create a community organization. So it's some online forums. We're having kind of regular sort of online catch ups as well, as well as some sort of in-person events. But the ones that we've had so far, the conversations of you know they've been conscious that we didn't want to, you know, have a lecture where someone sits in front of a screen and talks into the void for 45 minutes and then there's some sort of text, question and answers. We wanted something that was more interactive, like we wanted, you know, to have a focus for a meeting. So we had a great one a few weeks ago with Chris Wirtz, who's an installer for Stamstruck, a veteran of you know, dozens and dozens of master in the buildings.

Paul:

And has been on the podcast too. He's been on the podcast as well.

Nick:

yeah, no, he's a really great break and good fun, but he's, you know, but just being able to kind of, you know, have a forum where people can ask questions to him and say, you know what, you know which were the good projects you worked on, which were the bad ones. You know what's your sort of feedback for engineers, for architects, for, you know, for builders, to, you know, make these buildings more buildable, because you know we're not, we're not kind of feeding that back into the front end. It's still got the same details. Yeah, he shared an example of you know some brackets he was having affixed to columns on a project. He needed sort of double brackets on four faces and it, you know there were a hundred nails or something in each bracket. So you know they had to rotate people. You know the work, safe organization, looking after health and safety on site. So you can't have people doing that for more than 10 minutes. So they were having to kind of rotate people constantly around these columns to, you know, to nail in these brackets. You know, have a team just to keep circling through that every 10 minutes. And it's crazy. And there are, you know. There'll be other ways of detailing that, but you know, until you, until you kind of feed that into the designers up front to take that into account, like it's going to keep happening. And you know there was it's been a really, you know, really good response that we've had to Timberdome. We'd love to get more people involved. At the moment it's largely started off. I ended Australia but we picked up a lot of New Zealand interest and members have started to join. But you know there's certainly capacity for people to get involved in this globally. And you know, if anyone wants to join the conversation you go to wwwtimberdialoguecom. That's dialoguesdia. So D-I-A-L-O-G, which we thought was a good pun. But you know, if you sign up for the website we can get access to the forums and you'll get notifications on events. And we'd love to kind of build this self-sustaining community that can, you know, help each other out. That can you know, be that founding board that maybe you know it's hard to sort of find the right people to ask. But if we can get a big enough community that you know, there's so much useful information, there's so much experience, there's so much knowledge out there that we're really just trying to find a way to share that with each other and build that passionate community that wants to help each other out and, you know, make more timber buildings.

Paul:

Thank you and I love the fact that it's an authentic conversation. You know, the presentation that we give is generally very crafted about what we want to push forward and sometimes that's for the best interests to promote A self-interest, such as promotion of a product. What was refreshing with having Chris on the program, as he has been with you in timber dialogue, is getting that insight into. You know a simple thing like propping or the regulations and rules around. You know manual installation of screws and rotation for 10 minutes and that genuine support that comes from that. I also must give a big shout out to the guys at Timberlab as well, because they've also gone down that pathway and spoken about you know the dimensional thickness of the columns and how these change with the levels of the building, and if they said that they lost one column they'd actually be screwed because they have to go and re-manufacture it and it's six to eight weeks away minimum. So those site stories are really important. So if you are interested, please reach out to Nick and the team at Timberdialog and I'll put it in the show notes as well, just in case anyone didn't catch it while they were listening in the car or on the plane or on the way home on the train. Nick, we're nearly out of time, but just a last question for me. Before you promote your services so that people can get in contact with you, either here locally or internationally, what do you think is the next frontier for us? We've talked about sustainability, but there's a lot of noise at the moment around design for manufacture and assembly. Then there's disassembly, and from assembly or from the disassembly, what's your view on this sort of circular economy principles being applied to things like mass timber?

Nick:

I mean, it's probably one of the materials that is most well suited to it. I think, maybe after steel, there's a lot of technology already involved in the manufacture of timber, arguably more than almost any other material, more than steel. There's this simple trust, and a frame these days is fully 3D-modeled and carried and put together robots and the like. So I think there's a lot of capacity to do that. I think there are certain hurdles that I'd like to see kind of solved. You really kind of need a bit of a crystal ball to know how people are going to want to reuse things. Are they going to take a timber beam out of one building and put it in another? Maybe in certain sectors they do better spot things in and out like that. I think there's challenges around you know, kind of coming up with connections and ways to remove some of these. You potentially kind of increasing connection costs in certain situations and the sort of testing certification type piece as well. Like you know, in 30 years' time we're pulling apart a structure and going to reuse it. How do you know that material still fits the purpose? Is it still going to last its design life? Do you know anything about it? Because we're now kind of operating in this sort of digital space and you know it has a tremendous capability to be able to store information like that. And you know there's so much technology kind of coming out, you know, to be able to kind of identify those pieces and sort of trace back their manufacturing process and their QA and things. I think you know there's a lot of data and stuff that we can get out of that and I think you know we need to kind of find ways to leverage that. But we also need to, you know, try to work out how do we certify that, how do we kind of test it. You know, what are the kind of standards going to be like in 20, 30 years' time? Are those products still going to be fit for purpose? I don't know. But I definitely see it as an increasing kind of demand in projects. Certainly, you know some of the schools clients that I've been working with for the last few years are demanding that we consider disassembly and things. So you know some of the usual details of sort of firing screws. Those things are not going to be acceptable. It's sort of pre-installed proprietary bolting connections and things that you can kind of screw and unscrew at will sort of thing, and that's partly driven by their kind of need to move things around as populations change and needs change within schools and within districts and things. So you know again those institutional government type clients, I think we'll drive that. But yeah, there's still a lot of interesting products coming out. You know, every kind of few weeks I kind of see some new system coming out. I think that looks very smart and they're all looking at disassembly, as you know, as a key driver there. So I think you know we do see the next few years without really starting to become mandated in briefs from certain clients.

Paul:

And I think the key point for me from the conversations I've had is about what's going to be the cyclic nature of that building right. So if we do refuge or sort of recovery from natural disaster accommodation, for example, the entire volumetric unit can be reused right as a function of this circular sort of adaptive use for different environments. And then, if you look at it from an institutional building, it might be that there's specific connections that can be disconnected, disassembled as easily as they have been assembled for the purpose of that time. And for a school, it might be that the school has to sort of expand and potentially use portable type prefabrication and then become more permanent buildings which might be using prefabrication as well, and then those buildings get transported somewhere else, refurbished, reused, and it becomes part of the cyclic economy. And the simplest form for me was an example that someone said look, how do we build a community hall in a smart and efficient way, using circular economy principles? I said well, community buildings are built by the communities, for the community, from the community. I said so ask the community if they've got buildings that might not necessarily be used anymore, especially in rural towns, where you can salvage materials from those locations and then re or upcycle those as a function of creating this new entity which is the town hall. And the beautiful advantage of that is that the community has input into the community building. And I think circular economy principles need to be defined by the scope of the type of the project, and I think you're suggesting it's the same thing. So, coming up with the innovative systems one thing, but it's got to match the utility of where the building is going to go, or what that purposeful second life or third life is going to be, and what the duration is in time between their lifespans, because they all have an impact, right? Yeah, yeah absolutely. Well, we've run out of time, so please tell the audience exactly how they can get in contact with you your website, your email address and I'll also put these in the show notes. But just you know, if I'm a person in industry listening to this podcast right now and I go, I need to have a chat to Nick. What do I need to do to contact you?

Nick:

So you can check out my website, which is wwwarboralescomau. So A-R-B-O-R-A-L-I-S. So for those who do, one of those that's Latin for relating to trees which was a result of chat, G-B-T and a few hours of banging ideas till it came up with an email I liked. You can follow me on LinkedIn, so look for Nick Houston on LinkedIn. I pretty active on there. I post a lot of articles and thoughts, but, yeah, if anyone's interested in what I do, so it's sort of I've gone full circle from consultancy through to manufacture, through to prefabric construction and back to consultancy now. So I've got a pretty broad understanding of what the design issues that we're seeing in Mass Timber, in prefab, and I'm sort of consulting through everything from high level client engagement, looking at feasibility of projects and seeing the project up to success, through down to full project structural design and assisting builders and installers on site, looking at different options, connection design, temporary work so a really broad range of services and I think the industry has sort of been really great for the first few weeks of the business and that kind of picks up a lot of interesting work already and we'd love to speak to people who are passionate about Timber and who want to learn more.

Paul:

Well, thank you, nick, I appreciate your time as always, it's really good having you on the podcast. Thanks very much for coming on and sharing so much of your valuable insights, ideas, thoughts and, you know, conclusions around where we're at at the moment and then projecting forward as to where you think we might go. I think that there's a lot in this episode for anyone that's thinking about how to strategize, about what they might want to do in engaging in markets, moving forward, if you're on the supply side, and the big question here is how do we cut through? How do we cut through and make the biobased and including Timber technology is more mainstream and Nick's approach is to have normalization conversation around how it integrates and I think that's a really authentic way to do it. Don't forget Timber dialogue. Don't forget Nick's consulting. All of the contact details will be in the show in the next episode. Details will be in the show notes and thanks, nick, for being on the podcast.

Nick:

Thanks, pk, great to speak to you and sorry it takes a long. Hopefully next time we can do this in the round of the pool with the coxels. Awesome, mate, thank you, thank you.

The Mass Timber Construction Journey
Sustainability and Mass Timber Buildings Perspectives
Timber in Construction
Timber Dialogue
Reuse Building Materials Challenges and Opportunities
Timber Dialogue and Nick's Contact Info