Regular readers of the Ergodomus newsletter will be aware that our timber engineering services have been applied in construction projects in a number of different countries around the globe, but perhaps haven’t considered how we consistently deliver the results our clients require when there seem to be so many variables involved. Aside from obvious ones like language and time zone differences that can affect straightforward communication, there are localised technical and regulatory challenges that need to be understood and responded to. These issues can become complicated – especially at times such as now when many national borders are being closed in response to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic – but the working methods we have developed over several years have allowed us to take our specialist skills and experience into projects around the world, often working in several different countries simultaneously. So, how do we manage this from our base in the very north of Italy?
The new world of engineered timber architecture
Widely acknowledged as a pioneer of modern timber architecture, Alex de Rijke of London-based architects, dRMM, several years ago predicted wood to be the material of the 21st century, a statement that, at the time, seemed over-optimistic in timber’s potential to change the global construction industry established processes and materials. Much has happened since then, however, to verify this new direction of travel, notably increasing concern for the environment and the effects of global warming. The emergence of new, engineered timber technologies too, has changed perceptions of what it means to build with wood and with this, a growing trend around the world to locally establish large-scale manufacture facilities to produce engineered timber products from domestic forest resources.
The range of building types that can be constructed with wood-based products has also greatly expanded, especially upwards, with ever-taller timber residential and commercial projects appearing in greater numbers in major cities, where even whole timber-based districts are now mooted. In this new arena of structural engineering, specialist skills in the use of wood are required to provide the engineering design for the increasingly complex timber projects that are increasingly required by architects and private and public sector property clients. As you will discover below, Ergodomus has all the necessary engineering skills and, importantly, the experience to deliver the integrated range of services required to support the international impetus for more engineered timber architecture.
Ergodomus has a small but very committed team of specialist timber engineers. This may seem an obvious or unexceptional point to make, but our expertise is in the design of modern timber structures using advanced timber technologies and, with the ever-increasing use of wood in contemporary architecture, our structural timber design skills and technical knowledge are much in demand – not just by developers and building contractors, but also by architects and structural engineers. Indeed, we see ourselves as an important contributing partner to each of these groups in the successful delivery of what are often highly complex engineered timber projects. As one of the very few structural engineering companies in the world whose work is focused solely on the art and practice timber engineering, Ergodomus works at the forefront of innovation in this field.
Communication – the importance of language
It is a truism that English is the international language of architecture, engineering and construction, but this does not always mean that communication is straightforward, whether in spoken or written form. As with other sectors, the construction industry has its own range of specialist terms and these can differ from country to country. There are also questions of interpretation that relate to the conventions of business practice in a specific location. The Ergodomus team members are not only fluent English speakers, they are also proficient in the technical nuances of construction English that exist in the different countries the company operates in.
Communication – the importance of technology
The ability to work in different parts of the world from a single base has been transformed over the past 40 years by advances in technology. The fax machine – once an innovation and, originally, the size of an industrial photocopier – is now almost extinct, replaced by video conferencing and other online visual communication systems as well as instant document and image access and transmission via the Cloud. Ergodomus works with the most up-to-date communications technologies and ensures its team members are au fait with new developments in this area, ensuring the company’s ability to maintain regular and immediate connection with its clients, project partners and suppliers.
Technical Knowledge – the latest digital technology
The modern construction world relies upon advances in digital technologies to achieve efficient, precise construction within carefully controlled cost parameters. New and creative building forms never previously possible with the use of timber continue to emerge in response to changes in functional requirements as well as growing awareness of environmental issues that are detrimental to the ecology of the planet, These developments in engineered timber and timber engineering have been made possible through the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), parametric design, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality systems*, all of which are used, singly or in combination, wherever appropriate, by the Ergodomus team.
Technical Knowledge – manufacturing processes and standards
As specialist timber engineers, the Ergodomus team is very familiar with all forms of engineered timber: whether CLT, Glulam, LVL, LSL, Dowel-Lam or Nail-Lam (see elsewhere on website for more information on each), the team members each have an in-depth understanding of which species of wood have been used in their manufacture, the manufacturing processes themselves and the physical and structural properties – and possibilities – of the finished products. Maintaining up-to-date knowledge of the various technical standards that apply to the manufacture of engineering timber products and systems is essential when pushing the boundaries of engineered timber design and construction and critical to Ergodomus’ ability to deliver creative and effective timber engineering solutions.
We also think about the way in which timber is used and how an engineered timber structure can be dismantled rather than demolished at a building’s end-of-life: the Circular Economy demands that we, as responsible professionals, think ahead about the re-use of materials and components. Yes, wood is the planet’s primary renewable material, and whilst we can always grow more trees than we cut down, we also need to ensure the wood we use comes from carefully managed forests in order to conserve these resources wherever, and for as long as, possible.
Technical Knowledge – national and local Building Codes
The building codes, legislation and technical standards that apply in different countries have evolved over many years in response to a combination of factors that include local climate, culture, geography and prevailing construction methods. In many places, these codes have not kept pace with innovations in construction, not the least of these being the world-wide increase in the use of engineered timber products and systems. With current project located in countries on four different continents, the members of the Ergodomus team quickly familiarise themselves with the detail of the relevant building codes that apply in each situation. Whilst Eurocodes and their national annexes are also used in many locations outwith Europe, others, such as Canada, have their own specific regulations. As an example of the Ergodomus’ professional approach in such instances, the company’s principal director, Franco Piva, spent a few months in Canada and in the USA in the past 2 years gaining an in-depth understanding of the relevant legislation that applies there.
An important factor in the Ergodomus approach to working internationally is its ‘one-stop, full service’ approach: the company not only designs effective, elegant timber structures, it provides all of the necessary static calculations and the drawings essential for the fabrication and construction of the mass timber components. We believe this holistic approach is not only more efficient and cost-effective for our clients, it is also quicker and less prone to problems being encountered during the building erection phase. We ensure all building code and other regulatory requirements concerning the timber elements of each project are met in full – wherever they happen to be in the world.
Creativity – the Art and Practice of Timber Engineering
All of the above points provide the essential foundations for the Ergodomus team to practice their passion – the art of timber engineering – on an international basis. We approach the structural engineering design of each project from a creative standpoint, working collaboratively with architects and other construction professionals to deliver engineered timber buildings that are not only innovative, but which use timber construction technology appropriately and efficiently. In the Ergodomus world, it is not enough to ensure the structural engineering of a building meets all local and national technical requirements, it is also very much about how the natural beauty of a timber structure is expressed for all to see and enjoy.