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Why wood is back at the top of the tree for architects.

Published in the Guardian this article explains the growing emergence of engineered timber as an increasing influence for modern design and build styles.
Article courtesy Guardian Newspaper 28th January 2018

Strong, clean and versatile, engineered timber is the ‘new concrete’. With wooden skyscrapers in the offing, could it be the answer to the global housing crisis?

There is a miracle building material – one so environmentally friendly that it extracts carbon from the atmosphere rather than adding to it; a stuff with which structures can go up at lightning speeds, that reduces the noise and disruption of building sites, that can be as strong as steel and much lighter, that makes both construction workers and a building’s users happier, and that, with the help of technology, is getting ever more efficient and adaptable. “It’s the material of the future,” an architect tells me. Its most ardent proselytisers think it could fix the overcrowding of the world’s cities. At the same time, this stuff – wood – is so ancient that 18th-century theorists believed that Adam built the first house out of it in the Garden of Eden. Mild-mannered, unassuming timber has gone into a phone box and come out as a super-substance.

Its glamour has unglamorous origins. They go back some time. In the 1990s, because digital technology was already causing the world to use less paper than expected, the Austrian government funded a search for alternative uses for the timber grown in its forests. Gerhard Schickhofer, a professor of engineering, came up with an idea, which was to build up layers of planks, each one at right angles to its neighbours, bond them with glue and press them. This makes a sort of ultra-plywood, called cross-laminated timber (CLT). It’s strong, rigid and durable, insulates both heat and sound, and can be prefabricated in factories to high levels of quality and precision. You can make floors, walls, stairs and lift shafts out of it, stacking up panels like an unusually stable tower of dominos.

Although CLT gets the most attention, it is one of several products that go under the name of “engineered timber”, which have in common the use of new technology to make a natural material perform like an industrial one. One British early adopter, Alex de Rijke of dRMM architects, who won the 2017 Stirling prize with the company’s part-CLT rebuilding of Hastings Pier, called engineered timber the “new concrete”. He means that it’s a material where the surface you see is also the stuff that holds a building up, which is the stuff that keeps out the weather too. “There can be something very visceral about that,” De Rijke says. “We all like stone cathedrals for that reason.”

Another enthusiast, Andrew Waugh of Waugh Thistleton, points out the ways in which it is better than concrete. You can put up the structure of a nine-storey block, as he did in Murray Grove, north London, with a team of four carpenters in 27 working days. Engineered timber makes for quieter, calmer, cleaner building sites, without the noise and dust of hammer drills and grinders. It requires a fifth of the deliveries by truck that concrete does. It creates minimal waste (which, as a high percentage of the rubbish that goes to landfill comes from construction, is no small matter).

Whereas a tonne of cement emits nearly a tonne of carbon in its making, a tonne of timber will, through the trees from which it is made, remove up to two tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. “If you had to invent a machine,” says Waugh, “which gives you a renewable supply of building materials while also reducing carbon levels, it would be a tree.” Of course, to achieve these gains, building timber has to come from trees that are replaced, but here too it can be beneficent. It can create a demand that encourages the growing of new woodland and care of the existing. Waugh says he has met foresters in the American north-west who are thrilled by the renaissance of timber construction, as it could revive their woods.

Read the entire article here – https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/jan/28/wood-engineered-timber-housing-needs

Bartram are able to supply and advise for all of your CLT and engineered timber.

Call 01767 699699