Te Whare Nui o Tuteata: The SCION Timber Innovation Hub by RTA Studio

Te Whare Nui o Tuteata

Te Whare Nui o Tuteata provides a welcome to the New Zealand Government’s SCION Timber Research Institute in Rotorua, New Zealand; an educational invitation to come “Walk in Our Forest” and learn new and sustainable ways of resourcing and building with timber. Sitting outside the fence-line to the campus, the building reveals itself like a forest on arrival with entry-level café, display and communal areas providing a real-life experience of science.

Timber research is visibly happening in the upper floors and within a three-storey engineered-timber diagrid structure which challenges stereotypes to timber structural buildings. The expression of the diagrid legibly demonstrates that timber structural buildings do not need to be designed like steel and concrete buildings, but instead can act more like trees where strength follows the continuous grain of the wood.

Here, an innovative timber structural node transfers loads and holds a seismic fuse to yield and be replaced after an earthquake. With this simple shift in thinking the structural size of the timber has reduced by around a quarter. Being smaller means timber construction is easier to handle, transport and sustainably resource and ultimately change or re-use. This kind of thinking allows more buildings to be built in timber rather than more timber to be used in individual buildings.

An approach not just useful to a small, isolated country like New Zealand where new machines and construction materials like steel and concrete generally come on a boat, but to larger countries where efforts to store carbon in buildings often is thought of in larger and larger components as the name ‘mass’ timber suggests. Sustainability does not mean more, it means less.

Te Whare Nui o Tuteata represents more than 10 years of advancement and sophistication in the way timber structural buildings are not just put together but conceptualised. The project is about benefitting futures and encouraging our participation with the environment. Thinking harder about how what timber is good at and how timber buildings might be better prefabricated and pieced together has resulted in a globally significant scientific demonstration of how we might build tomorrow.

The building achieves embodied carbon zero at end of construction, which includes raw material mining, manufacturing, transportation, and installation, and without any offsetting of carbon credits. Whole of life carbon usage over the next 60 years are about 2/3rds those of current 2020 RIBA reference building targets. In numbers the building sequests 530,488kg of carbon, or around 300kg of carbon per square metre.

Stores approximately 415 tonnes of C02-e in just its primary timber structure for the life of the building, which is equivalent to the emissions of 160 flights around the world. The building is ahead of its time, the 454m3 of structural timber is regrown every 35 minutes in New Zealand. Te Whare Nui o Tuteata provides an invitation to researchers, the timber industry, and the community to come understand the value of timber research and innovation and be part of the future.

The building represents a real prototype, rather than just a possibility, for all future buildings and lays a marker on New Zealand’s journey to be carbon zero by 2050. The building is named “Te Whare Nui o Tuteata” as gifted by Ngā Hapū e Toru and acknowledges the mana of the tupuna Tuteata, from whom Ngā Hapū e Toru descend and the connection to the whenua, Titokorangi. Source by RTA Studio.

  • Location: Rotorua, New Zealand
  • Architects: RTA Studio
  • Collabotation: Irving Smith Architects
  • Client: SCION, New Zealand Forest Research Institute
  • Structural Engineers: Dunning Thornton
  • Size: approximately 1800m2 across three levels
  • Completed: 2021
  • Photographs: Patrick Reynolds, Courtesy of Irving Smith Architects

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