The Great Timber Bridge Tour
An idea that started in Aotearoa New Zealand generated by our collaborators, New Zealand Timber Design Society, came to fruition in Oslo, Norway last week.
Bjørn Stankowitz, our technical manager, was on the ground with Waka Kotahi chief engineer Sulo Shanmuganathan taking part in a timber bridge tour.
The tour was part of the World Conference on Timber Engineering last week in Norway.
“We wanted to learn more about timber bridges and understand the challenges that come with building a sustainable option for car and foot traffic,” says Sulo.
The quest to bring this knowledge back to Aotearoa and share it with engineers here meant Sulo and her team were compelled to suggest the tour to conference organisers. The idea was accepted and made an official part of the international conference.
Following the conference, Bjorn will spend time travelling through Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland looking at more examples of timber bridges. This will build on the knowledge from Norway. He will then bring his findings back to Sulo and her team and use the information gathered to develop best practice guides for building timber bridges in New Zealand.
“We are discovering what is possible through the evidence of existing structures in the EU," explains Bjorn. “The idea is to create a bridge “CV”. It will include the background story of each bridge we visit and help us to create spec sheets of what realistically can be done and what can’t be done.”
Timber Design Centre will then use this information to create links out to universities, suppliers and manufacturers about best practice for timber bridges.
“The focus is to make sure that we don’t waste a lot of money and resource on things that don’t work,” says Sulo. “What we are finding out this week and Bjorn is building on with his extended tour is the best environments to use more sustainable materials to build bridges.”
That includes understanding the durability challenges and how to cope with the way a natural material, such as timber, moves when in exposed conditions for extended periods.
“These are not bridges that will be designed for heavy highway traffic,” says Bjorn. “It’s about making sure what we build is the right fit for the environment and that we maximise the opportunity to use timber wherever appropriate.”
While there are already a number of timber bridges in New Zealand, Timber Design Centre know from their research that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to designing and building them.
“We are investigating and finding out what the challenges are and what lessons we can learn from others early,” says Bjorn. “What makes sense, we can invest in.”