Prof. Ario Ceccotti: Timber should receive the attention it deserves

Boğaziçi University Civil Engineering Department has broken new ground in construction industry in the new academic year. Prof. Ario Ceccotti, internationally credited timber engineering expert, has started tutoring in Timber Engineering in Boğaziçi University.

Prof. Dr. Ario Ceccotti has started giving lectures in the department of Civil Engineering in Boğaziçi University as a visiting instructor during the academic year of 2018-2019. Having worked in the department of Architecture, Construction and Conservation in Università Iuav di Venezia, one of the most important and long-established schools in the domain of architecture and design across the world, Ario Ceccotti has proven himself as one of the very few experts on Structural Stability, Timber Engineering, Seismic Design and Timber Structures.

Upon being invited by Boğaziçi University to give lectures on timber engineering, Prof. Ario Ceccotti moved to Istanbul for the academic year of 2018-2019.

Prof. Dr. Ceccotti, first of all, how did you start working in Boğaziçi?

Ario Ceccotti: Before coming to Boğaziçi University, I worked in Venice to teach structural engineering to the architecture students. And before that I was an instructor in the engineering faculty at Florence University. I worked as the director of Trees and Timber Institute (IVALSA) of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) before I retired. This institute occupies itself with matters such as the preservation of biodiversity, supporting the production of high quality timber in the forests, using timber in civil engineering, etc. They make scientific research on the use and production of sustainable timber.

There are none but few people in the world that work with timber, so we know each other well. I’ve come together with many of my colleagues in multiple work places and collaborative research, and one of these people is Erol Karacabeyli, who is a prominent scholar and a scientist in Canada working in this domain. Karacabeyli was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award by the Forest Products Society and the American Wood Council in 2013. He also is one of the principal scientists in FPInnovations, one of the most important timber research centers in Canada.

I worked with him for about 3 years in Canada and we became good friends. Thanks to the works of the Turkish National Timber Association and TORID (Türkiye Orman Ürünleri Sanayicileri ve İşadamları Derneği) the use and importance of timber in Turkey has been steadily increasing, which brought about the idea of teaching timber engineering in the universities in Turkey. Erol Karacabeyli was thus offered to teach timber engineering in Turkey. However, as Erol is in Canada and declined the offer, but not without recommending me for the position. Therefore, I was offered the job and I said “Why not?”, and asked my wife about her opinion. With her blessing and support, I accepted to work in Boğaziçi University. In short, my working in Boğaziçi only came to happen due to the connections I just listed and now I am here to teach the engineering students about my knowledge on designing timber structures.

My aim in my lectures in Boğaziçi is to show that timber is in fact an easy to use, durable material that work very well in construction. Timber is a very easy to find as well as being ecofriendly. It is renewable, you are not destroying or damaging forests to obtain timber, forests are growing back faster than you cut them to collect material. You use only a small portion of the forest annual growth for construction supply.

Turkey is very rich in terms of forests and trees, what are your opinions on the forests of Turkey?

Yes, you are very lucky, Turkey has a tremendous amount of forest land, which should allow you to build with timber more. I’d like to highlight my previous point, when you collect timber from the forest, you are not damaging it, you’re actually helping it survive and sustain. I have lived my whole professional life trying to point this out as I believe this is very important.

Is timber a better and more preferable material for construction?

As I have said before, I’m a civil engineer. I cannot say that timber is better than concrete, or that concrete is a bad material. What I can say timber is a material about which engineers should have as much information as concrete or steel. They need to know about different materials so that the engineer working on the project can decide which material works the best for that particular design and structure. Just take a look at the works of the accomplished designers around the world, they not only built with concrete but also with timber at times. Every material has its own properties.

What’s unacceptable, in my opinion, is students’ not knowing anything at all about the timber structures. If they don’t know anything about it, how can they build with it?

Timber has numerous qualities, being renewable, light, durable, ecofriendly, etc. is just a few of them. Students should know about it and they should be able to work with it when they collaborate building structures with architectures or forest industrial engineers.

Turkish Standards Institute has already accepted European standards in timber structures. To put it simply, everything is ready and available in Turkey, except for the actual use of Turkish timber in construction.

Can you elaborate on that? Doesn’t Turkey use its own timber?

There are 38 construction companies in Turkey that use Turkish timber. Only 38! Italy is a relatively small country and 38 might be a high number for Italy, but in Turkey, 38 is highly inadequate.

The timber or wood used in Turkey is imported from Russia. Why don’t you use Turkish timber? This is an important question, if you ask me. There are 13 faculties of forestry in Turkey and these people know about Turkish timber, but it is not well known in engineering faculties. So I think there’s a lack of communication between faculties and departments. Engineers, architects and timber/wood technologists need to work together. In the recent years, a few organizations have come to the surface which work in this domain, which try to make timber relevant in construction again in Turkey. To give an example, İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality Cultural Heritage department is working on restoration projects on timber structures across İstanbul.

How does timber stand against fire?

The new and modern buildings are fire resistant. In Switzerland, for example, there’s a long tradition of using timber in construction. They do in-depth statistical research on the effects of fire in different construction materials. Compared to old timber buildings, the current buildings built with new and modern techniques are more resistant to fire and can stand against it at the same risk level of other construction materials buildings.

Aren’t timber structures also more resistant to earthquakes?

Yes, using timber in seismic zones is very important. Timber is remarkably light. The negative effects of the earthquake increase proportional to the mass of the building, so the heavier the building, the more it will be affected by the earthquake. Timber’s lightness is a great quality when we consider this. If a building doesn’t get destroyed in a strong earthquake, it proves the durability of the building.

The new and modern timber structures do not get destroyed by the earthquakes, actually it is safer to stay in a timber building than go out. The building might shake but it will not collapse, and as long as the furniture is anchored in place, you will survive an earthquake in a timber building.

And if the building is designed according to the most recent codes it will be fully usable after the worst anticipated quakes and their aftershocks.

Last of all, how durable are timber buildings against extreme conditions such as tsunami, hurricanes, etc.?

Modern timber buildings can be designed to resist even exceptional actions indeed. But actually, this is not only an issue of engineering and design, it is also a matter of administration. For example, in America, 90% of the people live in timber houses. These houses are not strong or durable against tornadoes. So, in case of a twister, they leave their houses to seek shelter in bunkers. They simply rebuild their houses once they get destroyed or damaged. This is a matter of policy in that country. Therefore, every society and country can take precautions in such matters according to their own policies.

Interview: Özgür Duygu Durgun / Corporate Communications Office

Photography: Kenan Özcan