WoodSolutions Tour: A Walk-Through Sydney’s Timber Buildings

A journey of discovery: unveiling Sydney's timber architectural legacy

Wed 24 May 23


Kylan Low, a WoodSolutions NSW representative, led a group of 15 architects, engineers, builders, and designers on an intriguing walking tour around Sydney Harbour foreshore last Thursday. The tour highlighted the city’s historical and contemporary award-winning timber structures.

The tour began at Walumil Lawns, Barangaroo, and ventured to the Walsh Bay Arts Precinct. There, the group admired two impressive timber wharf structures that had recently been renovated and now house the Sydney Dance and Theatre Companies. The structures won the Australian Timber Design Awards for Interior Commercial, showcasing a perfect blend of old and new.

Described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “timber cathedrals,” the precinct was designed by award-winning architect Peter Tonkin, a director of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects, and is home to nine arts companies, including the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

The new Walsh Bay Arts Precinct includes updated performance spaces that could see as many as 1800 people enjoying dance, theatre, choral, or classical music at any time. This photo shows a new performance space for the Australian Chamber Orchestra. (Photo credit: Brett Boardman)
The new Walsh Bay Arts Precinct includes updated performance spaces that could see as many as 1800 people enjoying dance, theatre, choral, or classical music at any time. This photo shows a new performance space for the Australian Chamber Orchestra. (Photo credit: Brett Boardman)

It has five new theatres, concert halls, vast exhibition spaces, rehearsal rooms, bars, administration, and workshops for wardrobe, scenery, and props. The timber, mostly preserved from its original installation 100 years ago, contrasted beautifully with the modern theatre and dance stage that had been recently inserted.

From Walsh Bay, the tour proceeded to the iconic Pyrmont Bridge, passing the Barangaroo House en route. The building, known locally as the “Birds Nest”, stood out for its unique façade made from a winding Acoya dowel structure across three levels. This architectural masterpiece was awarded the Australian Timber Design Awards Best Façade in 2018.

This striking building resembles a birds nest. (Photo credit: Joshua Dasey)

The three-storey circular building, which resembles a bird’s nest with its timber facade and green canopy, was developed by Lendlease following a design competition in 2013. Local architecture firm Collins and Turner Architects designed the sculptural building on the southwest corner of the precinct.

Arriving at Prymont Bridge, a parallel chord truss road bridge built in the early 1900s. The engineer Percy Allen designed it with a steel truss swing span with ironbark timber truss approach spans. The group got a chance to learn about the intricacies of bridge maintenance from Nathan Manns, a team leader from Marine and Civil Maintenance.

Manns explained the painstaking efforts to restore the bridge, from replacing deteriorated elements to introducing a 50 mm camber into the truss – an exacting task often done over water! Marine and Civil Maintenance have provided a detailed case study of the work on their website.

Opened in 1902, the Pyrmont Bridge connects Pyrmont and the city as a pedestrian route. The 369m bridge consists of 14 spans, 12 of which are 25m long fixed timber trusses, with the remaining two being steel swing spans. The bridge features 72 Allan timber trusses, spaced approximately three meters apart.

After leaving Pyrmont Bridge, the tour headed to Barangaroo’s International and Damaru House, both modern post and beam mass timber buildings designed by Tzannes.

International House is Australia’s first commercial wooden multistorey office building. HESS TIMBER has developed a new laminated timber beam solution using a combination of spruce and beech that allowed large service penetrations within the beam profile whilst providing impressive load-bearing capacities. (Photo credit: Ben Guthrie)

Both buildings had won awards for their design. International House won the 2017 overall winner and the commercial building category, while Damaru House won the Commercial building category in 2020.

The sister to the International House, Daramu House, is position at the intersection of the commercial and residential Barangaroo precincts. (Photo credit: Ben Guthrie)

Kylan Low explained that while the International House and Damaru House may look alike from the outside, there have been changes in their design over time. In Damaru House, the main beams have been arranged differently to decrease the number of HVAC holes, which has led to cost savings. Moreover, Damaru House showcases beautiful art made from milled CLT.

Damaru House’s exposed CLT exposes ceiling HVAC (Photo credit Brett Boardman) – Wood Central

The tour, spanning around 7 km, concluded on a high note, with participants expressing their appreciation for the extensive exploration of award-winning timber design in Sydney.

Isabelle Pfaeffli from beeboCONSTRUCTIONS was particularly impressed, stating, “The walking tour was a wonderful celebration of timber in construction, both how it has been used (and endured) and how it can innovate and still be relevant within modern construction.”

Austrian International Trade Advisor, Matthias Mikolaj, also voiced his appreciation, saying, “Thank you again for organising the WoodSolutions Walking Tour! It was very interesting and informative as well.”

Such sentiments highlighted the success of the WoodSolutions tour in providing a unique, in-depth perspective of Sydney’s architectural heritage and innovation in timber design.


  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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