WAF Judge Pushes for Certified Timber to Shape Buildings of Future

Exclusive: Mark Thomson is heartened by uptake of "proper use" timber projects but has challenged architects to conduct proper due diligence when selecting building materials.

Mon 04 Dec 23


Timber is now being used in more diverse applications, with architects’ thirst for knowledge leading to its “proper use” in projects worldwide.

That is according to World Architecture Festival (WAF) Judge Mark Thomson, who spoke to the Wood Central podcast earlier this year.

WAF, one of architecture’s most prestigious awards, is the largest live awards event for architects and designers. 

In the four years leading up to 2023, Mr Thomson was a judge of the Best Use of Certified Timber Prize sponsored by PEFC International – the only timber-centric prize awarded by an international architecture design competition.

This year, Mr Thomson was again invited to judge the awards, albeit without the timber-centric prize. 

WAF Judge Mark Thomson spoke to Wood Central’s Jason Ross about the future of timber buildings—footage courtesy of @woodcentralau1.

He has, however, watched with interest as more timber-rich projects have been highlighted for “category awards,” “special prizes” and “highly commendable” recommendations.

“I’ve seen the language around timber change,” he said, “I’ve seen the opportunities change.”

“Initially, we were just looking at CLT (or Cross Laminated Timber) buildings, but now it has diversified into crafted buildings and a whole range of timber being used internally and externally, structurally and non-structurally.”

It includes  Boola Katatjin and Fisher and Paykel’s new $220m campus development, both shortlisted for this year’s major prize – won by Huizhen High School for its “Floating Forest” inspired design.

The Fisher and Paykel campus, covered by Wood Central in October, includes a massive 3-story building constructed with a cross-laminated timber diagrid frame similar to that used in the award-winning Scion Innovation House – judged by Mr Thomson in 2021.

Diagrids are an efficient way to provide strength and stiffness and require less material than traditional structures, with the shift away from gravity mass timber buildings to geometrically stiffened forms to help in earthquake conditions.

Speaking to Wood Central earlier this year, Mr Thomson said, “That particular project (SCION House) was a controversial winner,” before confirming “it was an appropriate award winner.”

Shining a light on the SCION Innovation Hub, the 2021 Best Use of Certified Timber Prize Winner – footage courtesy of @woodcentralau1.

“Timber had a very strong structural element,” he said, “but it was a glass building,” with timber and glazing together providing a connection for the inside and outside.

“This is part of the interesting debate we will have in the future about what we need to do to achieve the outcomes.”

That includes hybrid construction systems, with Wood Central reporting that researchers now working on creating new building materials using combinations of timber, steel and concrete. These ‘sandwich’ building systems can offer enhanced strength, durability, and reduced weight to eliminate carbon footprint.

A Brisbane resident, Mr Thomson is co-author of ‘The Environmental Brief – Pathways to Green Design and is a multi-award winning “sustainable architect.” 

A past recipient of the Courier Mail “People’s Choice Award”, he co-founded the Centre for Sub Tropical Design – a collaboration between the Brisbane City Council and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) – promoting design that is appropriate for the subtropical climate and lifestyle of Southeast Queensland. 

Following the confirmation that the Gabba will be subject to a $2.7B total rebuild, is Brisbane ready for a Carbon Positive Games? Footage courtesy of @woodcentralau1.

And with planning for the Olympics now underway, Mr Thomson, an active member of the influential Committee for Brisbane, has some advice for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Organising Committee.

Billed as the first “Carbon Positive Games” in history, Mr Thomson “is dubious that a carbon positive games can be delivered” unless there is greater use of greener construction materials and an understanding of the certification process that underpins sustainability claims.

The truth about third-party certification and why you should care about it – footage courtesy of @woodcentralau1.

In 2017, Mr Thomson became the world’s first architect appointed a PEFC-aligned certification scheme board member and strongly supported using third-party certification on building products.

“In this world of fake news, I think it’s essential to have third-party verification of what you have done,” Mr Thomson said.

“You need creditable evidence to back up what you say,” he said, “people often tell you what you want to hear (not what you need to hear), which can be two very different things.”

“I pay a lot of attention not just to the architectural materials but also the credentials that come with it.”


  • 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.


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