What are the benefits of using hybrid structures in building?

Hybrid building, namely, using structures that incorporate several types of structural materials, may boost digitalisation, enhance sustainability and help controlling budgets. Sebastián Maetschl Hernández, R&D Manager for Building Concepts from Stora Enso, introduced us to the advantages of hybrid building.

In hybrid building, finding the best features of each material for a specific part of a building in a specific design is the key goal.

Employing the strengths of each material

Every building material has strengths and weaknesses. In hybrid building, finding the best features of each material for a specific part of a building in a specific design is the key goal. Combining different materials allows optimising building parts as independent entities and in relation to other parts, which might be beneficial especially when dealing with more complex designs.

“Steel can support timber where high stiffness is required. Concrete can support timber when more weight is an advantage. The timber sector, highly advanced in prefabrication, can integrate them together and boost the industrialisation of the construction process,” says Hernández.

Partly because of its low weight, timber is suitable for offsite manufacturing and erection onsite.Photo: Stora Enso – Assembling CLT elements onsite.

Partly because of its low weight, timber is suitable for offsite manufacturing and erection onsite.Photo: Trä Group – Massiv-Holz-Mauer elements at TRÄ’s building site.

Timber enables the prefabrication of elements

Replacing steel or concrete elements with wood in a structure tends to reduce its weight. Partly because of its low weight, timber is suitable for offsite manufacturing and erection onsite. Although the initial material cost of timber may seem high, offsite manufacturing typically means faster building times, so the advantage of prefabrication usually balances out the budget.

“It’s important to understand that in the construction activities the costs of the process are significantly more relevant to the overall budget than the pure material price – which accounts for a relatively low part of it. To put it another way, more saving potential can be found in the process rather than the materials,” Hernández explains.

Partly because of its low weight, timber is suitable for offsite manufacturing and erection onsite.Photo: Stora Enso – CLT manufacturing at Stora Enso’s sawmill.

Hernández suggests that construction should shift towards industrialisation as this would boost digitalisation, reduce the environmental impact and allow keeping control of building costs. He states that when it comes down to industrialisation, the timber industry is more advanced than the others, primarily because of wood’s lower weight and because it is easier to work with.

“In industrialisation, the steel and the concrete industries are a little behind timber. Using steel and concrete in timber projects whenever they provide an advantage could bring some technical and cost benefits, and additionally increase the level of prefabrication in these industries. This is how we should think of hybrid,” Hernández sums up.

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