Aurecon Secures Top WA Prize for Trailblazing Boola Katatjin

Fully autonomous robots used to install some of the 1800 individual pieces of mass timber used on the project.

Fri 08 Sep 23


WA’s peak engineering association has awarded Murdoch University’s Boola Katatjin “Western Australia Project of the Year.”

Aurecon accepted the award and worked alongside project team members Multiplex, Lyons, and Norman Disney & Young. 

Wood Central understands that Aurecon provided civil and structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, and pedestrian and traffic modelling for the project. Whilst Norman Disney & Young delivered core building and specialist engineering services designs.

Aurecon is a specialist in mass timber construction, having previously worked on 25 King Street, Monterey Apartments and Nanyang Technological University’s Gaia in Singapore, all covered by Wood Central.

Announced as part of the 2023 Engineers Australia Excellence Awards – People & Projects, the honour is the latest for Western Australia’s first mass timber-engineered building.

In March 2023, the latest group of Murdoch University students attended a graduation ceremony on Northern Events Plaza. (Photo credit: Murdoch University)
The project received the state’s highest design honour 

In June, the WA chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects Awards awarded the project with the state’s top design award, with the university now a frontrunner to secure the national award, announced next month.

According to Susan Kreemer Pickford, Engineers Australia GM for Western Australia, “the Engineers Australia Excellence Awards go beyond recognising elite accomplishments in engineering.” 

Ms Pickford said the awards “highlight the pivotal role engineers play in our daily lives and their efforts in advocating for community well-being and the environment.”

In awarding the project, Ms Pickford said the project “has the potential to be an ‘engineering influencer’.” She said, “The judging panel were impressed by how this project has used ingenuity to deliver a sustainable end triumph – Western Australia’s first mass-engineered timber building.”

The project achieved a 6 Star Green Star Design and As-Built rating, which, according to the Green Building Council of Australia, “demonstrates leadership in sustainability on an international scale.”

It will now represent WA, where it is one of the favourites, at the national awards in Melbourne on November 29.

Learn more about the Boola Katitjin building. Footage courtesy of @murdochdigitialmedia
1,800 pieces of glulam timber were installed like jigsaws in a puzzle

Covered by the West, the 180-meter-long structure has earned the title as the Southern Hemisphere’s largest mass timber building, even securing a feature on ABC’s Landline.

The project used more than 2,143 tonnes of timber, with mass timber pieces of all different lengths manufactured offsite before being assembled like a giant Meccano set or puzzle.

In June, Wood Central reported that, by volume, the glue-laminated timber beams used in the Northern Plaza are the largest installed in Australia by volume – at 7,282 kilograms in length and extending 26 metres.

In November 2022, the giant glue-laminated roof was installed on the building. Footage courtesy of @murdochdigitialmedia

The project is attracting global attention, with the judging panel acknowledging a significant focus on “advancing the sustainable, renewable, and circular approaches required by the construction industry to assist economies in reaching their net zero carbon goals.”

The judges commended the project for its key circularity focus

According to Aurecon, “decreasing reliance on finite materials to prioritise renewable resources, such as timber, is a key circular economy concept.”

“When mass-engineered timber is sourced from certified sustainably managed forests, it can play an important role in the circular economy and have a lower carbon footprint than traditional building materials,” the Aurecon team said.

Mass-engineered timber, or MET, also allows for modular design and construction, helping to design out waste and pollution at the start. 

“Modular timber buildings are assembled from prefabrication, which reduces waste and can support disassembly at end-of-life, enabling repurposing components.”

More than 1800 individual pieces of glulam were connected together using a simple bolt and pin connection system, which allows for easy disassembly. (Photo Credit: Murdoch University)

With a focus on design for assembly, the glulam pieces were connected using a simple bolted / pin connection.

This means pieces can be disassembled at the end of their life and re-used elsewhere, whilst 93% of the construction was diverted from landfills with waste and offcuts repurposed as wayfinding signage.

The project deployed robots in a world-first trial

Without question, the most innovative part of the project involved fully autonomous robots. 

The world-first robotics technology trial saw up to 100 timber screw fixings – out of 300,000 – fixed to the building as part of a proof of concept between AUrecon, Murdoch University and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

The trial determined that automation of on-site construction activity can increase productivity, drive efficiency, reduce cost and improve worker safety.

The robotics technology used at Murdoch University supports and encourages students in the learning, social and professional spheres of their lives.

Being the first of its kind, the robotics trial presented considerable challenges, resolved through creating a digital twin and using 3D simulations.

The robot was equipped with a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) navigation system for autonomous travel.

A workflow was devised where the UTS team exported Aurecon’s structural BIM model and inserted it into their robotics software (Gazebo).

It is estimated that robotics technology will reduce timber construction schedules by 15-20 per cent and is replicable for other similar construction scenarios.

The project will be discussed as part of Timber Offsite Construction

Next week, Boola Katatjin will form the basis of a case study at the Timber Offsite Construction conference in Melbourne.

According to Andrew Dunn, the conference organiser, “the primary focus is on commercial-ready applications of timber technology.”

“We anticipate an even larger turnout than past years, attracting industry leaders and professionals eager to explore the potential of timber building construction, both from Australia and overseas.”

“The program and speakers are the most impressive of all previous conferences,” he said. 


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