Malaysian fire department chooses wood
A supreme irony and a milestone in sustainable construction wrapped into one. That’s the background to a story unfolding in Malaysia.
Peninsula Malaysia is hugely endowed with natural forest, most of it in gazetted reserves, with small areas selectively harvested under the watchful eye of international forest certification regulators. (Sadly, that’s not also the case in the country’s two other states, where claims of wholesale forest destruction continue.)
Use of the peninsula’s best construction timber species has for decades been severely restricted. Not for sustainability reasons, but the result of widely held banking and insurance industry perceptions that timber is riskier in a fire than steel.
A sardonic twist
Then, earlier this year, came a sardonic twist: the Malaysian Ministry of Housing (MOH) backed a ‘mission’ of public sector movers and shakers to New Zealand and Australia to see glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT) construction first-hand. And perhaps more importantly, to watch independent charring tests of glulam timber under extreme fire conditions.
A senior fire department official in the Malaysian party was apparently openly skeptical about any kind of large dimension timber construction being used in fire stations – or most anywhere for that matter. But as a result of what he saw, plans are well advanced for four fire stations (and a wet/dry market) in Malaysia to be built or refurbished using glue-laminated local timber.
The first major step
The details are still being worked through, according to Asmadi Muhammad, a KL-based architect and CEO of engineered wood start-up MyGlam. “But this is the first major step to going into glulam here on a big scale.
“The main issue with wood in Malaysia has always been the misconception about fire resistance, but now that we have tackled that through independent analysis, there is no reason for glulam timber not to be used extensively.”
This development is of great importance to the engineered tropical wood industry and follows several years’ research, technical missions to Australia, New Zealand, Scandinavia and the UK, and independent fire resistance testing of Malaysia’s construction species.
Meanwhile, site work for Malaysia’s first hardwood glulam pedestrian bridge began in September. It will span 43 m across a sensitive wetland and weir at the city of Putra Jaya, about 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur.
©Natural Images 2016