Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) was a hive of activity on 26 February 2019, when delegates from across the world attended the ninth annual Wood Conference.
Every year, the conference hosts public professionals from different industries such as architecture, engineering, wood construction, carpentry and interior décor. The event is a platform to discuss topical issues involving sustainable, green and energy-efficient construction with wood – both high-end and low-end.
The day was divided into three sessions where different speakers gave presentations which offered ideas on how to build with wood. Some of the presentations also provided background information on wood in relation to architecture, town-planning as well as science and technology. “Since it is a neutral platform many architects, engineers and others in the build environment attend the conference, so we try to incorporate ideas for all,” explains Zaida Davids, event organiser.
MC Hannu Garny kicked-off proceedings, by welcoming guests to the conference.
“Here we are nine years later.” He explained that nine years ago the conference started with just under 100 delegates. Since then the number of delegates has grown significantly to a record number of more than 700 delegates in 2019.
According to Davids, the conference brought many newcomers and late registrations after the closing date.
“We then extended the registration to almost the very last day,” she adds.
Opening and welcome
For the event’s opening address, head of corporate development at the Kuratle Group Roger Kuratle, expressed his excitement for the ninth conference.
“Every year when I get the opportunity to open the Wood Conference, I realise how fast time goes. Another year has passed, and we look at what we have achieved, what has been done and what still need to be done,” he said.
One of the achievements of the family-owned enterprise, was the completion of the Ark Angel kindergarten project in Cape Town.
“I am very proud and happy that we can announce the completion of the kindergarten project and it is up and running. Just going there and seeing the kids play, run, eat and sleep in an environment that is safe, healthy and sustainable gives me a lot of gratitude,” he said. He also took the opportunity to express gratitude to all the sponsors, supporters and friends involved in the project.
Another important achievement was the completion and opening of a new facility in Switzerland. Kuratle explained how the 10 000m² complete wood structure building took six months to finish.
The last accomplishment was the newly established partnership between the Kuratle Group and Universal Plywood. “Universal Plywood together with Brad Anderson and Boet Lubbe represent a family business just like ours which lives a good company culture and operates with a high level of professionalism. I am certain that our companies will stimulate each other and that we can grow together in a sustainable way to the benefit of the South African wood market and industry,” he said.
Next on the podium was the consul general of Switzerland for Cape Town, Andreas Markus Maager. In a brief address, he officially welcomed delegates to the event. Returning to the conference for a second time in a row, Maager said the achievements of the wood conference over the past nine years had been outstanding and everyone was looking forward to the 10th conference. He had high hopes for the 2020 conference, expecting more than 1 000 delegates and expressed a wish for Cape Town’s mayor to attend the next conference.
Alternative building, timber bungalows and modular structures
Once all the formalities were done, speakers in the first session were called to give presentations on their respective topics. Managing director for Timbercraft Lucas Denvin was the first speaker to address delegates. He spoke about alternative building methods with timber, saying that bricks and mortar cannot be the only solution in South Africa. “Alternative building has been around for many centuries,” Denvin said.
He also explained that timber has been identified as the major role player against the fight against climate change. “Change is needed especially under the circumstances of climate change and water scarcity.” His presentation touched on key points which included mass production, timber high rise buildings and challenges facing young architects. Denvin was optimistic about the industry, adding that it is alive and well.
Christian Hess, owner at Holzbau Hess was next and during his presentation on the design and construction of timber bungalows and restaurant in the Namibian desert, he discussed all the challenges that the harsh environment holds from the foundation work to the unforgiving winds that shift the sand around.
The last speaker in the first session was Max Renggli, CEO of Renggli Smart Building in Switzerland. His presentation focused on the future of building with modular structures that are all prefabricated in a factory and delivered to site, complete.
Renggli also mentioned the advantages of modular buildings. “The big advantage of modular systems is the continuity of innovation. With modular systems it is possible to streamline the entire process from planning to procuring from manufacturing to assembling.” He highlighted that small simple models or customised client specific design, would benefit from simplified construction which included pre-assembled rooms, bathrooms, kitchens and cupboards.
After Renggli’s presentation, delegates went for a 25-minute interval, which also served as a networking opportunity where delegates interacted with each other and with the session’s speakers about their presentations.
Peripheral timber, log homes and fire safety
After the interval, it was time for presentations in second session with Andrew Brose up first. The design director from MASS Design delivered his presentation on applications of underused timber such as the base, crotches and branches that are usually considered waste. His experience with projects that have severe materials constraints pave the way to explore how wood materials and construction waste have the potential to support the entire construction process.
Brose’s presentation discussed ways to improve and innovate the cost, expected building outcomes and durability of a projects. Through algorithms applied to samples, various application of use as well as structural strength are determined converting prior waste onto useable construction elements. Overall Brose believes that unutilised timber has positive overarching results.
Neil Hayes was next with an interesting topic called ‘Stick, poles, timber, elephant dung and dust’. He took delegates through his safari architectural journey discussing construction in relation to the San people who used wood and mud to construct their villages.
He also explained the role of elephant dung in trees, focusing specifically on the baobab tree.
“Baobab trees are mainly regenerated through the injection of a seed called the cream of tartar,” he said. He added that the seed is propagated in the elephant’s gut. “With the extinction of elephant, we are going to end up with the extinction of baobab trees.”
Hayes showed a lot of optimism during his presentation saying that anything is possible with wood. He believes timber was part of human development and DNA because it is part of human structures historically.
Finish architect Lena Weckström gave delegates a bit of insight into the Finish history of log homes. She made a distinction about log homes currently explaining how they are on a different level through exiting design and architecture concepts.
Her presentation illustrated how log homes are also considered durable as Finland has the oldest log homes in the world – some as old as 600 years. One of the advantages of log homes that Weckström mentioned, is that they are recyclable as with modern technology, and can be disassembled and rebuilt at different sites.
Italian engineer from Rothoblaas, Michele Dal Ri gave an insightful presentation about modular timber solutions. He discussed how new solutions for modular timber construction, which provide efficiency on site as well as treatments, airtightness and waterproofing for the cross laminated timer (CLT) building system. Improved air quality and low waste are among the many benefits of modular timber constructions.
Lukas Krbec, a structural engineer from the Czech Republic looked at solutions for architectural vision and structural elements of design, as well as stress points on load-bearing structures by analysis through software as well as manufacturing capabilities.
Dr Nick De Koker concluded presentations in the second session and presented testing and results of the effect fire on timber in construction. Depending on the function and load needs the effect of structural integrity can be estimated. Wood begins to char at 300°C, which is some cases can protect structural strength of a beam, for example. Knowledge of the fire rating of all timber products is important from design phase.
Refabricated timber, wood value chain and Ark Angels success
After enjoying a delicious lunch, delegates returned to the hall to listen to speakers in the third and final session of the day.
Ulrich Grimminger and Thomas Just, presented together on the advantages of prefabricated timber houses for developers. After a steady decline in timber construction since the 1800s and with the introduction of concrete and steel, there has been an increase in demand since around 2000. In Germany timber construction is expected to hold 30% of market share. Prefabrication is primarily very efficient on site but also greatly reduces waste as the production process is very precise.
Next up was Rosie Goldrick, an engineering director from MASS Design, who talked about the importance of strengthening the wood value chain in east Africa to improve ecological, industrial and community life. She also gave an overview of the work MASS and associates has done in Rwanda as well as the challenges of sourcing local materials in terms of quality. Rwanda is among one of the most densely populated countries in Africa.
“With this density comes deforestation and food insecurity,” Goldrick explained.
Although Rwanda is high in natural resources such as timber, the management of the plantations and forests has been neglected and therefore affects the timber quality. In addition, a lack of training, machinery and correct treatment are also substantial challenges. Timber in Rwanda and other African countries is primarily used in making charcoal.
Stefan Thomas Rubner from Austria, the penultimate speaker for the day, showcased a new temporary living space introduced as ‘Wood-Space’ – a container-like system that can be adjoined or stacked to two levels.
Wood-Space combines traditional timber construction with modern and sustainable production techniques and so block construction is reinterpreted. Rubner explained that the system can be configured into a variety of solutions for housing, site offices, lounges or waiting areas.
The last speaker, Warren Papier an architect from Blueprint Architects, gave feedback on the Ark Angels Educare Project in the Overcome Heights community located in Cape Town. He said that Ark Angels integrated a safe teaching environment for the community. The project was completed towards the end of 2018 and was handed over in January 2019.
Papier explained how only 20% of the resources used in this project were sourced from Europe and the remaining 80% were skills, labour and material from South Africa. Although there were challenges during the project, collaboration by private and corporate sponsors which donated funds, materials and in some instances their services, made the project a success. Papier expressed gratitude and appreciation to all that were involved in the project. “On 14 January 2019, after a three-year process, the new facility was officially opened by the mayor of Cape Town, the consul general of Switzerland and a very happy community, along with Ark Angels Educare,” he added.
A word from delegates
As the conference came to an end, delegates had an opportunity to participate in an online survey, where results indicated that modular timber construction had a moderate to high probability of implementation in South Africa.
“The general feedback from delegates has been great with the exception of just a few. So, what the one participant might find too technical in some cases, the other participant enjoyed the knowledge of receiving that information,” explains Davids.
“This was the first time that I attended the conference and some of the information presented is quite helpful to me. I am an architectural draughtsperson, living in Bonteheuwel on the Cape Flats and servicing the community in that regards,” says Togieda Ismail. She adds that since the municipality had revised regulations, what was formerly regarded a ‘Wendy house’ is now called a timber structure.
Togieda found the conference beneficial as it helped her put a lot of information into context. “I received the SANS 082 document and details of a plan during 2018 and the specifications didn’t register yet. Seeing how it’s done [at the conference] makes more sense. Our communities’ mindset needs to change now.”
“I was blown away by the speakers, their presentation’s and most of all the willingness and commitment from them to assist me on my new CLT journey,” says Lucas Denvin who was also a speaker at the conference. He was excited to meet George and Roger Kuratle and was impressed by their humility. “Zaida, well done on organising the event, it was great.”
Other delegates share Devin’s sentiments about the whole event. Michele Dal Ri says the conference was a fantastic experience’. Leon Russouw adds, “Thank you for the well organised conference, it was most enjoyable. Speakers were well prepared and definitely captured the audience’s attention – food was, as always, great.”
Judging by the feedback and attendence from the Wood Conference, the event was definitley a success. “I have worked at many Wood Conferences with HWZ but this one was very different and very successful as we had over 700 attendees,” comments Wageba Martin, the registration desk assistant.
Wood Conference 2020
Alwyn Barnes says the 2019 conference was ‘brilliantly organised and extremely informative’. The bar was certainly set high at the 2019 conference. “I am already looking forward to 2020,” Barnes adds.
The 10th wood conference to be held on 26 February 2020 is greatly anticipated and should promise further positive progress for the timber construction industry as well as additional reaching participation from the sector.
By Dineo Phoshoko
Source: Timber IQ
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