Engineers Crown Boola Katatjin Australia’s 2023 Building of the Year!

The 180 metre long building incorporates 1800 individual pieces of mass timber which were installed like jigsaws in a puzzle.

Thu 30 Nov 23


It’s official: Murdoch University’s Boola Katatjin is Engineers Australia’s “Project Of the Year”, the latest accolade for a project that has swept the award season.

Announced as part of the Engineers Australia Excellence Awards last night, Engineers Australia CEO Romilly Madew AO said the awards highlight engineers’ significant contributions to the community.

“Our 2023 people and project finalists are an outstanding field and exemplify the positive impact of the profession on so many facets of society,” Ms Madew said.

In June, the WA chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects Awards awarded the project with the state’s top design award, and earlier this month, it was awarded the Daryl Jackson Award for Educational Architecture and the People’s Choice Award at the Australian Timber Design Awards.

20230214 130350
The project is the first mass timber building delivered in Western Australia and the largest ever constructed in the Southern Hemisphere. More than 1800 pieces of glue-laminated timber, weighing 2,143 tonnes, were supplied by HESS Timber. (Photo Credit: Aurecon, Lyons and Multiplex)

Aurecon, who worked alongside Multiplex, Lyons, and Norman Disney & Young, accepted the prize, and it is the latest honour for Western Australia’s first mass timber building.

In September, Wood Central revealed 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.

image 20.png 1
Members of the project team with a robot, which in a 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).

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.”

Reflecting on Boola Katatjin, Ms Pickford said the project “has the potential to be an ‘engineering influencer’.” 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.”

20231102 Timber Design Awards high res 105 fotor 20231130155542
Earlier this month, the project team were recognised at the Australian Timber Design Awards, where the project secured the “People’s Choice” and “Engineered Timber Product” awards. (Photo Credit: Australian Timber Design Awards).
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 Southern Hemisphere’s largest mass timber building title, 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. 

image 18 1024x738 1
More than 1800 individual pieces of glulam were connected using a simple bolt and pin connection system, which allows for easy disassembly. (Photo Credit: Murdoch University)

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

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 was also featured in the latest Wood Solutions campaign—footage courtesy of @WoodSolutionsAustralia.
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.

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

image 19 1024x631 1
The robotics technology used at Murdoch University supports and encourages students in the learning, social and professional spheres of their lives.

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.


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


Related Articles