Timber does talking for Tassie architect

Article from The Mercury 23 Jan 2021

Tasmanian architect and engineer Richard Maddock is on a mission to revolutionise the construction industry.

In London, Mr Maddock is known as “the timber guy” by his colleagues at Foster+Partners, where he helps create awe-inspiring architectural masterpieces around the world for clients such as software giant Apple.

His passion for timber stems from his teenage years crafting wooden boxes for Hobart’s Salamanca Market.

Mr Maddock, 41, who grew up on a farm in Kingston and attended The Hutchins School and the University of Tasmania, has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to combine his engineering genius with traditional carpentry.

The fellowship travel tour will take in parts of Europe and Japan, where timber temples, built using no metal fixings, have withstood earthquakes for 1300 years.

“I’d like to combine the old Japanese traditional method of joining timber with modern construction methods of using robots to process engineered timber,” Mr Maddock said.

“Most modern buildings these days are built to last 40 or 50 years and then they’re just torn down and scrapped. We should be building a lot more in timber and my hope is that my research will enable that process to continue in a way that means we can disassemble and reassemble and maintain our buildings better.”

Mr Maddock’s first degree was in computer systems engineering and after uni, at just 22, he moved to Germany to write software for Porsche to test the electronic components of newly built cars.

Before moving to London, Mr Maddock returned home to help his father John build a warehouse on the family farm and this humble project eventually led him to study architecture in Melbourne.

As a member of Foster+Partners’ futuristic Specialist Modelling Group, he now combines his background in computing with a passion for the built environment.

Recent projects include the Maggie’s Centre retreat for cancer patients in Manchester, for which he and his team used digitally fabricated laminated timber to create a complex geometric frame.

The result is a beautiful, light-filled building that can withstand strong wind and heavy snow.

“Design is, first and foremost, the human experience. But alongside that is how we can use software and technology and modern fabrication processes to build more sustainably and to design more elegantly,” Mr Maddock said.

Mr Maddock hopes eventually to move back to Tasmania, where he said the state, with its fledgling engineered timber industry, was well positioned to prepare for the building industry of the future.

“The benefits of using timber are just immense, not only from the look and feel of it, but also in terms of green credentials and sustainability,” he said.