Taming dinosaurs all in a day’s work at AAH
Arriving at the entrance of Australian Architectural Hardwoods feels like a leap back in time. On our recent visit, we couldn’t help feeling like we’d stepped into a scene from the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic Park. The company’s Production Manager, Duane Lees told us that people often wonder what’s behind the walls, that it “looks like something from the dinosaur age”. Though the ‘dinosaurs’ here are impressive, history-laden lengths of timber complete with battle scars, the day-to-day labour of love is to project these materials forward and breathe new life into them whilst retaining their precious DNA.
As Australia’s largest recycled hardwood mill, AAH are across dozens of salvage projects at any given time. Renowned for their reclamation of the piles and girders of Brisbane’s iconic 1930s-built Hornibrook Bridge, AAH also have ongoing contracts with most of New South Wales and Queensland’s energy suppliers, to harvest their expired royal species power poles. Old wool stores and similar factories also provide rich pickings, with vast quantities of Class 1 timbers awaiting their new destiny.
Duane came to his role from a traditional background in timber sawmilling. “I worked at the opposite end, purchasing logs, felling trees, working with freshly harvested product. Nowadays, I get to work with beautiful wood that just 20-25 years ago, would have been burnt or dumped in landfill.”
What used to be offered for free to rid sites of undesirable and redundant materials now fetches premium pricing, as demand has gained serious momentum. Additionally, the labour-intensive process of de-metalling, grading and re-milling is another reason behind the higher on-selling cost, as compared with virgin timber products.
We asked Duane his thoughts on reclaimed timber being a finite resource. “Well yes, it’s finite,” he said, “but there’s no chance of it running out any time soon. There’s at least another whole lifetime of timber available to be salvaged and turned into reusable products.”
AAH supplied Australia’s first engineered timber office building
Multinational construction giants LendLease chose AAH to supply structural hardwood products for their International House Sydney project at Barangaroo. Six stories high, it boasts reclaimed materials from the Hornibrook Bridge, the Transgrid power lines between Grafton and Casino, and the Wallerawang Rail Bridge in the Blue Mountains. AAH’s owner and CEO Andrew Brodie is a structural engineer by profession. His considerable expertise and passionate creativity go hand in hand to devise solutions that don’t just satisfy structural specifications. They also result in breathtaking aesthetics and encompass as many sustainability principles as possible. “The people at LendLease had pretty lofty expectations around building materials and it was my job – and pleasure – to come up with what they required,” he said.
With a workforce of 40 individuals, Australian Architectural Hardwoods supports no less than two hundred people among its extended family. Now in its 25th year, a new generation is coming up through the ranks, with Andrew’s sons Sam and Leith on board.
Andrew’s commitment to working with reclaimed timber is unwavering. “It has characteristics that simply can’t be replicated through new production,” he says. “Aged timber has such character and authenticity, and structurally speaking, is also far stronger and more stable. What we do often have to do is get creative around how we supply, due to on-hand quantities. But this only drives us to innovate and some of our best solutions have come from having to work around what’s available.”