Timber building: Munich’s eco thoroughbred
LaSalle Investment Management’s David Ironside explains the technology behind Munich’s first timber-built office.
The quest for net-zero carbon has increased interest and acceptance of timber as the principal construction material in new buildings among both investors and occupiers.
Examples are still comparatively few but, bit by bit, major markets are seeing pioneering examples emerging, demonstrating that it can be done and with little need for compromise.
Munich is among the latest cities destined to gain its first timber-built office asset.
LaSalle Investment Management and Accumulata Real Estate Group are to develop a hybrid timber office building in Munich, on Elsenheimerstrasse in the city’s Westend district.
The 16,000 sq m building, designed by Munich-based Oliv Architekten, will be owned by LaSalle’s Encore+ fund.
“Within LaSalle we have done a timber refurbishment in Paris. We also own a timber building in the US, so we have some experience and we could clearly see that tenants, not just landlords, are interested,” says David Ironside, fund manager of Encore+ at LaSalle IM.
He adds that there are many occupiers around that have net-zero carbon aims and nothing is really addressing that. “In Munich there’s really nothing, so even the most current buildings are built very traditionally in concrete.”
The new building will replace an old and architecturally undistinguished office building, which is currently being demolished.
“Although we haven’t signed a lease yet, we do have a lot of tenant interest,” Ironside says. “In terms of being attractive to tenants, it’s not just the net-zero carbon aims. I think it’s appealing to their employees as being the place to work and demonstrating their values, and this sort of building can do exactly that. So it very much appeals to everybody.”
Construction of the building, which already has Germany’s DGNB Platinum pre-certification, is due to begin in the third quarter of 2022, with completion scheduled for the first quarter of 2024.
The building will not be completely concrete free. The basement level and ground floor will be substantially concrete and the central core, housing elevators and stairs, will be constructed in concrete. And, while the floors are structurally built from timber, a concrete screed will be essential to provide sound insulation between levels.
“Everything else is pretty much timber,” Ironside says, primarily German-grown beech which has been treated to increase its fire resistance. “Outside facades, the supporting columns, the beams are all timber,” Ironside continues. “We’re able to use a considerable amount of timber and you will appreciate when you’re in the building, that you are in a wooden structure.”
Although occupants will be aware that the office in which they work is built from wood, Ironside says there will be few, if any, compromises in being in such a building. “It should not feel like a hut when you’re in it – it should feel like a very institutional office building, which has probably got a lot more character than many others, but it shouldn’t have any operational disadvantages relative to any other building.
“It really provides every bit as good as, if not better, space and that’s combined with the energy concept of the building.”
Ironside explains the building will be all electric, and will exploit the groundwater running beneath Munich for both heating and cooling.
This, together with a photovoltaic system, will reduce emissions from with the building’s operation by 65% in comparison with a typical office building. It will also harvest rainwater and store it for use in irrigation systems in surrounding green areas.
Although a small quantity of concrete will be present in the structure, another feature offsetting its impact will be the fact that a proportion of this will have been recycled from the building it replaces, and not just as hardcore beneath the structural base, but by recycling cement.
“Something that’s not yet fully appreciated by the markets is embodied carbon. Compared to another building, this building has a very low level of embodied carbon. We’ve been able to recycle a huge proportion of concrete and steel.”
The use of timber in the building’s load-bearing structure will ensure that approximately 1,100 tonnes of carbon will remain stored in the building fabric.
Utilising concrete reclaimed during demolition and other measures will reduce embodied carbon by up to 25%. Embodied carbon will be 366kg CO2e/sq m – significantly below the RICS Building Carbon Database (offices) average benchmark of 1,291kg CO2e/sq m.
Recycling materials means demolition has been slower and more painstaking. But the elongated demolition phase is somewhat compensated for by the fact that much of the new building will be produced offsite. “The parts are made in a factory, they basically come and slot it all together,” Ironside explains.
The development process has so far been simpler than many people would have appreciated, he adds. Neither fire regulations nor planning approval posed any more difficulty than a conventionally-designed building. And the biggest challenge was finding the right construction expertise and people with the experience.
“The construction industry doesn’t like to change its ways. They would just rather build the one they built before.
“Probably the biggest surprise has been how straightforward it has been. Once we actually got into the process of doing it, it’s been straightforward. If you’re working with the right people with the right momentum behind it, then you can see what’s happening. And probably the biggest hurdles have actually been psychological.
“Nowadays, tenants are often ahead of everybody else because they have net-zero carbon goals and aim to recruit the best people. And that’s two things that this building will help them do,” Ironside says.
This should also be reflected in the rent. “I think we’re going to see a very good rent for the area, because we will be the premium asset. The fact that the building is very energy efficient, of course will be something that people are very much going to appreciate, even more than they would have six months ago.”