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Fremantle jumps aboard timber office trend

Artist’s impression of hArbour by Yolk
Artist’s impression of hArbour by Yolk

Commercial offices are a “forgotten market” in WA for exploring sustainable building options. Now they’ve got a new timber building designed by Harris Jenkins Architects and Josh Byrne and Associates.


In what is considered Western Australia’s “hotbed” for sustainable and wellness-focused buildings, Fremantle will soon be home to what is believed to be the first mass-timber office development in the state.

Designed by Harris Jenkins Architects and Josh Byrne and Associates, the six-storey office building will have a vertical garden covering half the building’s exterior to help keep the building and its surrounds cool.

The developer responsible for the project, Yolk Property Group, has also committed to solar PV and a battery storage system and a new commercial grey water system. The system uses filtration and a disinfection system to recycle shower and hand basin water, which will go to the planters in the facade.

Tenants will also have sub-metering of electricity and water and access to demand management software and visualisation tools. There will also be storm and grey water collection, distribution and recycling.

Timber is widely considered a sustainable choice, because it sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the timber grows and after it has been used in the building.

There’s also the biophillic and wellness benefits of using timber, with natural materials increasing employee wellbeing and satisfaction according to a research paper from strategic market research firm Pollinate and the University of Canberra. The paper even found that using these materials may result in improved productivity.

“Office workers spend around eight hours a day indoors, often in offices that lack adequate sunlight and fresh air while being surrounded by manmade materials like plastic – this really isn’t a healthy environment,” Yolk Property Group director Pete Adams said.

“Our aim with this project is not just to develop a highly sustainable building but to create an environment that has a positive impact on those within it. We want to reimagine the idea of an office, producing spaces that employees will enjoy spending time in,” he said.

According to Harris Jenkins Architects design director Jonathan Harris speaking to The Fifth Estate, the decision to use timber “falls into two baskets” – it was selected for both its sustainability benefits and to help support and nurture the fledgling timber industry.

“There’s a real exactness, a real clarity and cleanliness to [building with timber]. To express the rawness of the building and eliminate the wet and messy aspects of some other building materials,” Mr Harris said.

He said that there’s still currently a “small cost implication for this path” but without people innovating in this space, it’s unlikely to become more affordable anytime soon.

Unlike on the eastern seaboard where some of the big timber manufacturers are able to supply to multiple markets simultaneously, Mr Harris thinks it’s going to be a bit more of a challenge to keep the timber market growing in the relatively isolated western state.

But he believes interest in timber is only going to “build and build” and is prepared to “tinker from the start to reduce the gap as much as possible.”

The development will take 18 months to build, with completion expected in mid-2020. Strata spaces range from 57 square metres to full floors of 380 square metres, and are available to purchase from $347,500. There are also leasing opportunities available.

Rhys Jenkins (Harris Jenkins Architects), Pete Adams (Yolk) and Josh Byrne (Josh Byrne and Associates)

Sustainable office buildings a forgotten market in Western Australia

Mr Harris said that commercial offices are a “forgotten market” in WA for exploring sustainable building options.

For solar it actually makes more sense than residential, he added, because the sun is shining during the day so solar panels on the roof are an easy way to bring operating costs down for businesses.

Mr Harris thinks that the health and wellness trend sweeping the office real estate market more broadly will continue to drive demand for more liveable and sustainable office spaces, especially in suburbs like Fremantle.

Although the development application is due to be lodged in January next year, City of Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt is already supportive of the development in principle.

“It’s encouraging to see an increase in highly sustainable projects incorporating timber and natural elements. Sustainable design is not a fad, it is the way of the future, both for preservation of our natural resources as well as the health and wellbeing of the population,” Mr Pettitt said.

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