Alumni profile - Lisa Thom

Lisa ThomBE Civil with Architecture, 2013
Structural Engineer, Lend Lease Development

When Lisa Thom completed her Civil Engineering with Architecture degree at UNSW in 2013 she breathed a sigh of relief, but she certainly wasn’t prepared for the whirlwind of opportunities to come. Her undergraduate thesis, on the use of cross laminated timber (CLT) in building and construction, won her the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering prize for Civil with Architecture. It also caught the interest of the Timber industry of Australia who sponsored her to travel to the World Conference for Timber Engineering in Canada earlier this year.

As a direct result of her thesis, she received a call from a senior engineer at Lend Lease asking if she wanted to apply for a job in their development arm, working as a Structural Engineer on Timber Products – she agreed. Lend Lease’s interest in timber began during the planning phase of the Docklands area in Melbourne. The traditional heavy weight construction materials required expensive groundworks due to the soil conditions so Lend Lease engineers sought an alternative – timber.

Massive timber has been used successfully in construction for over 30 years across Europe. It is lighter, and its construction time is quicker. What’s more, it is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable – a natural product that comes from plantations, stores carbon and can be recycled at the end of its useful life. Lisa feels passionately that timber technology has limitless potential in this country. She was encouraged recently to present to the Institute of Structural Engineers in Melbourne about the benefits of using CLT in building - the presentation was very well received.

Using timber brings a whole new set of parameters to the initial project phase. The design needs to be nailed down much earlier in the process because of the prefabrication process. The design basics for timber differ so it is best if the developers commit to using timber right from the start which puts more pressure on the design team up front. However, this in turn can dramatically reduce risks (and additional cost) in the later stages of construction.

At present there are only two CLT buildings in Australia, both constructed by Lend Lease. But, once the local industry takes off, as Lisa is sure it will, she hopes to see more and more massive timber buildings in Australia.