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Sir Bob designs tallest timber offices

Studio Pacific design.

Fed up with fixing design errors in the properties he buys, Sir Bob Jones says he has designed a “faultless” office building. Source: Stuff NZ

Property mogul Sir Bob Jones plans to take the timber industry to new heights, by erecting the world’s tallest wooden office building in central Wellington.

Mr Jones has announced plans to demolish the Leader’s Building on Featherston St, to make way for a new 12-storey office block. Standing 52 metres tall, it is due to be completed in 2018.

A property investor estimated to be worth NZ$750 million, with buildings in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, Mr Jones rarely constructs buildings himself.

He described the development as “an indulgence” driven by frustration at poorly designed buildings.

“We spend millions of dollars each year … tidying up design errors.

“I can’t think of a single office building in New Zealand or Sydney in which design errors are not evident,” Mr Jones said.

“So, as an exercise, we decided to build a faultless office building which I’ve personally designed.”

The building will be made from laminated timber columns and beams, which perform better in an earthquake than steel or reinforced concrete, as the materials are less likely to buckle.

The timber can also withstand extreme heat. At worst, the wood will char on its outer surface if a fire breaks out in the building.

While the Wellington building is designed to be world-leading in terms of height, Jones did not think the status would last long, given the global interest for the wooden construction.

Australian company Lendlease has begun work on what it says will be the world’s tallest office tower in Brisbane.

In addition, a new 12-storey office building has been announced in Portland, Oregon, as America’s tallest wooden office building. But Jones said his new building would trump both, being 12 metres higher than the Brisbane building, and six metres higher than the Oregon one.

There were taller existing buildings in Vancouver, Norway, London and Vienna, which had been built using laminated timber, however they were all residential buildings, hotels, or hospitals, Mr Jones said. “The office developer sector has been slow on the uptake.”

Wood Processors and Manufacturers Association chief executive Jon Tanner said Mr Jones was leading the field by building a tall timber office tower in Wellington.

“Sir Bob is at the leading edge of new technology and why we are really excited about it is he’s leading the field in getting more engineers and designers into this whole sphere.”

Some people believed timber could not stand the test of time, however, Victoria University of Wellington law school near Parliament was proof it could, Mr Tanner said.

“It is the biggest timber structure in the southern hemisphere, and that has been there for 150 years and it’s survived numerous earthquakes and is still being used by the law school.

“So in Wellington, now, you have an example of one of the oldest functional timber buildings in the Southern hemisphere, and then one of the tallest about to be built.”