New Zealand's Landmark Timber Structural Demonstration Building: NMIT Arts and Media Building

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New Zealand's Landmark Timber Structural Demonstration Building: NMIT Arts and Media Building

Set in a region of New Zealand renowned for being an arts incubator, this building is the built intersection of the Nelson region’s physical and philosophical requirement for a provincial arts teaching environment, and the New Zealand Government’s objective for a landmark timber structure to showcase and stimulate structural timber use.
This new building reconnects artistic disciplines to encourage collaboration and cross fertilisation. Completing a significant campus crossroad, the facility connects arts teaching, studio, performance and workshop facilities to the campus via a three level atrium.
Enjoying northern sun and outlook beneath a broad, protective eave, this campus circulation space encourages social interaction centred on the display, critique and exhibition of art. Teaching and studio areas gather south light without the need for elaborate sun control and are open to campus and city. This vision to ‘Exhibit art education’ parallels the expression of timber components within the building.
Timber is used as structure, but further to warm, articulate and de-institutionalize the community teaching environment. All timber elements are left on show to express their function and highlight timber’s potential as a design and structural element.
The building utilises Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) for all structural components with world first ‘damage avoidance’ seismic engineering incorporating post tensioned timber shear walls. These enable the use of straight forward post and beam gravity frames, immediately legible in their simplicity. The timberwork, while up-scaled, references conventional domestic timber structures, developing the notion of a crafted provincial vernacular.
All structural components are grown, milled, manufactured and erected within an eighty kilometre ‘Radius of Resource’, the foundation stone of an environmentally sensitive design philosophy. Passive approaches to daylighting, ventilation and shading combine with double glazing, high insulation values and extensive thermal mass to reduce energy consumption.
The Arts and Media Building provides a stimulating environment for learning, an economic community asset and an innovative and sustainable stimulus to the New Zealand timber industry. Following the catastrophic 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, the structural design philosophy pioneered by this project is changing the way that Government, the Construction Industry and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority contemplate Christchurch’s reconstruction.
Located on the Pacific Plate Boundary within the South Pacific an awareness of seismicity underpins the practices of architecture and engineering in New Zealand. The Radiata Pine forestry industry is the base construction resource available.
Nelson is a provincial South Island city that has made a significant contribution to craft based arts nationally. Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT) is the primary tertiary education provider in the region, with Visual Arts fundamental to their curriculum.
The project was the subject of a Government sponsored national design competition to realise a building whose structural form showcases timber construction and encourages the future use of timber in constructing multi-level commercial buildings.
The design concept was founded on a commitment to realise this project within the local market. The selection of locally produced and fabricated products as the basis of the structural system enables an ‘80 kilometre Radius of Resource’.
The structure is made legible, all timber members are exposed and their function expressed. Material finishes and surfaces are described in the manner of a drawing legend, either as clear finished structural timber or applied lining; the making of the building is on show as an environment for producing art.
Three level art teaching block and single storey media and workshop facilities are connected in three dimensions by a full height north facing atrium. The building is conceived as an arts-focused precinct comprising an east-west zoned layering of space, function and movement which integrates with campus pathways.
This building represents a new direction in timber structural design and construction. Post doctorate research by the University of Canterbury’s Engineering School has tested and monitored the construction process and compared energy efficiency and relative costs of similar ‘exemplar’ concrete and steel structure buildings.
A collaborative project between the University of Auckland School of Engineering and The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences continues to digitally monitor seismicity, wind speed, temperature and humidity, and compare deflections in key structural and seismic timber components. This 10 year project is seen as an important first step to making this new construction technology more available to industry.
In collaboration with engineers Aurecon, and the University of Canterbury and the Structural Timber Innovation Company (STIC), who undertook academic research and testing, this is a world first earthquake solution.
The project takes seismic design of multi storey timber buildings in a fundamentally new direction, employing ‘damage avoidance design’ with performance similar to base isolation. The system relies on coupled pairs of LVL shear walls incorporating high strength post-tensioned steel tendons. The shear walls are centrally fixed to allow them to rock during a seismic event; a series of U-shaped steel plates placed between the walls form a coupling mechanism and act as dissipaters to absorb seismic energy. This allows the primary structure to remain essentially undamaged while these replaceable connections act as plastic fuses.
LVL has strength properties that allow fabrication of beams, columns and walls at dimensions similar to concrete and steel design. Spanning 9.6m the primary LVL floor beams provide a large open floor plate, comparable to traditional commercial structures. Innovative design relies on the combined action of concrete topping and LVL beam acting as a composite section. Columns were erected full height with preformed housings allowing quick installation of beams each side utilising simple bolted connections.
Stressed skin timber floor panels employ an innovative flange hung connection spanning between primary structure to reduce the overall floor depth and avoid secondary structure or visible plate connections impeding the legibility of the timber structural system.
Timber components are standardised and fabricated off-site to promote efficiency of manufacture. With the ability to transport large sections to site, and its lower weight by volume, LVL allows simpler craneage, fewer site connections and considerable speed of erection.


10 photos and 8 drawings

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