Tales of the past, present, and future were shared at the grand opening of the University of Tasmania’s timber-rich River’s Edge building.
The $45m building is home to Humanities, Social Sciences, Law, Education, Business and the new Riawunna Centre for Aboriginal Education and is a short walk from St. Luke’s Health’s new headquarters, which topped out last month.
It is part of a campus relocation from the existing site at Newnham to Inveresk – with 1,500 students transitioning to the new building.
All three levels of government were represented, with Tasmanian Premier Rockliff impressed by “the building’s extraordinary craftsmanship.”
“This building is what Tasmanians are all about, and that is the quiet pursuit of the extraordinary,” Premier Rockliff said.
Standout features include using Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) for the stairs in place of concrete, MASSLAM supplied Glue Laminated Timber (GLT) for the roof structure, and the experimental use of solid Tasmanian Blue Gum over a hydronic heated concrete slab.
“The River’s Edge building is a prime example of how Tasmanian timber and recycled materials are being used in sustainable building initiatives,” Premier Rockliff said.
Tasmania is emerging as a global leader in design and manufacturing technology and is “incorporating world-leading hardwood cross-laminated timber, developed and manufactured by Cusp Building Solutions.”
Led by Fairbrother Construction, the building was designed with input from over 150 students, staff and the community as part of a co-design process.
The construction supported 500 full-time equivalent tradespeople and provided training opportunities for 74 apprentices.
Premier Rockliff was impressed “to learn that the building achieved a thirty-two per cent reduction in embodied carbon,” with a focus on “bringing the low carbon concrete, our wonderful sustainable timbers,” as well as “the recycled gas pipelines and passive solar principles.”
The project revealed Tasmanian Blue Gums are suitable for heated floors
The building incorporates a range of Tasmanian timber products, including veneer panels, timber battens, solid flooring, wall and ceiling linings, furniture, kitchen joinery and acoustic panels.
It also includes a cross-laminated timber staircase and, most notably, a “first-of-its-kind” heated blue gum floor with potential application across Australia.
Crucially, the project revealed a groundbreaking discovery that could have national significance: Tasmanian blue gum was suitable for heated floors.
“Timber is not the biggest fan of being heated and changed with moisture,” according to Dr Louise Wallis, the Deputy Director of The Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood.
Dr Wallis was part of a group which toured the building on Friday and said a test slab constructed beside the building revealed that blue gum was suitable for this type of application once glued to a thin plywood board to ensure its stability.
“This was the first time [bluegum] has been put in a commercial environment where it’s on an underfloor heated slab,” Dr Wallis said.
“This building is now the experiment giving people the confidence to do this,” with Dr Wallis confident the product can be used in various applications across Australia.
Tasmanian Timber Chair Shawn Britton, the managing director of Britton Timbers, which supplied the oak for River’s Edge, said that large-scale timber products are growing in popularity.
“More architects and designers are looking for solutions that have carbon benefits. Timber is the obvious choice not only for carbon storage but also for the raw beauty and functionality,” he said.
A legacy for future generations of Northern Tasmanian residents
The raw beauty and functionality stood out to Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Regional Development and Local Government Catherine King.
“It’s such a beautiful example of what we should be doing with the built environment, bringing people together, multi-use, being able to study, learn, play and work in such an incredibly special place.”
Senator Carol Brown echoed those sentiments, “How lucky are the future generations of students to have this as their new campus and to have the building opening to the community?”
The legacy of the building, according to University Vice Chancellor Rufus Black, “won’t be the gorgeous stones and spaces; it will be the people who come through here, the lives that are changed because we made education as a community more accessible to more people.”
The project is part of a $640 million ‘UTAS Transformation project’ which, according to the City of Launceston Mayor Matthew Garwood, “is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history” and “will ultimately be an iconic development and asset for Launceston.”
“The vision of creating a university campus and city of learning is certainly alive and thriving with those now working, studying and living right on the doorstep of our CBD, which is incredibly exciting not only for the CBD but the flow-on effects through our beautiful North and all of Tasmania.”
Launceston has a strong connection with timber
Home to the Central for Sustainable Architecture with Wood, it also houses the Design Tasmania Centre, the Australasian Furnishing Research and Development Institute and the future Australian Forest and Wood Products Innovation Institute.
The University of Tasmania has a strategy to “utilise renewable, carbon-neutral building materials with 100% sustainability forestry practices”, including the new Inversek Library.
The $23m project, opened in February 2022, was designed by John Wardle Architects and “has an exposed timber structure utilising glulam timber beams and columns with a sawtooth roofline to mirror the historic railway sheds.”
Raw timber for the beams was supplied from McKay Timber and Barbers Sawmill – which were both certified through Responsible Wood certification – and manufactured into structural elements by VicBeam.
Professor Greg Nolan, the director of the Centre for Sustainable Architecture with Wood, said the projects exemplify how timber can be used in transformational projects.
“Transformational projects are an excellent example of the positive outcomes of the Tasmanian Wood Encouragement Policy.”
In 2017, the Tasmanian State Government introduced a “first of its kind” policy requiring all government projects to consider locally sourced timber design.
Last year, the centre appointed Gary Fleming as Tasmania’s first Wood Encouragement Officer. Mr Fleming will work with industry, government agencies and suppliers to identify opportunities to increase the use of timber products.