Timber: the Building Material of the Future RIBA Work Stage 0 - Client's strategic brief and core requirements - Swedish Wood


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Hi, I'm Andrew Ward from Waugh Thistleton architects. We do a lot of work in timber construction in our practice.



Two real issues that are facing humanity globally, are climate change, global warming and population. 7 billion people, twice what it was when I was born. The only solution for that increasing population is to build denser, compact cities with tall buildings and those buildings need to be built from timber.



Trees as they grow they store carbon dioxide they're storing the carbon dioxide, they’re storing the carbon within the body of the timber, so there soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere and storing carbon and then we cut down these trees and we use these trees in our buildings, these trees are or an active carbon store. A cubic metre of timber stores a ton of carbon dioxide.


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Concrete is the 20th century the century before it is all about steel is the Eiffel Tower it was Chicago skyscrapers, then you can see how that technology then moved into concrete, at the beginning of the 20th century and how now what we're doing here is taking timber into the 21st century.


The temperate forests that we have at the moment whether they are in North America and Canada, Scandinavia, they're all growing; they are increasing in size at the moment, so we have this fantastic replenishabe natural resource that we can use to build our buildings with, to build our cities with. Even outside of environmental issues outside of the sustainability issues is fantastic. Fantastic material to build with.


Inspirational Timber Projects

We're just at the start of using timber in the UK but look how inspirational it can be. From housing developments like Alison Brook’s, new Hall at Harlow or Sheppard Robson's development at Barking Riverside, to apartment blocks, such as these six storey timber frame flats by Taylor Wimpey in Runcorn. On my own 9 storey building in Murray Grove, East London constructed entirely of cross laminated timber panels we got to nine storeys, the tallest residential timber building in the world.


From school such as BDPS Abraham Darby sports and learning projects and University buildings such as Tim Ronald’s Collier Ferguson Music Hall in Canterbury, a really beautiful building. And student accommodation like GWP’s project Bradford University. From huge retail spaces such as Marks and Spencer’s new superstore at Cheshire Oaks and public buildings like Niall Mclaughlin's Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxford. And the stunning Wilkinson as Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth.


In the UK we are leading the world, you know we are producing at the moment the most exciting, the most interesting, the most revolutionary timber buildings in the whole world, it's right out there and it's on our doorsteps.


Your Clients' Strategic Brief

One of the first things we do when we begin to talk to a client about building a timber building, is explain to them how fast, how accurate this process is.


Timber | Speed of Construction

So, what we're drawing on the CAD program, those files are going directly to the factory. Those files are actually making up the files to cut the timber panels with, so what arrives on site is millimetre perfect, you know these things arrive on site on the back of a truck they craned into position they go up in days rather than months. So, the 9 storey building that we did, that went up in 27 days, was three guys with cordless screwdrivers and a crane driver.


What we draw and what's delivered on site are the same thing, now that's fantastic we can have we can be sending off orders for window manufacturers, while we're still on the drawing board because we know to the millimetre how big our window openings going to be, we know exactly how big the building that we're going to build it is going to be. So, the accuracy of the material can actually help in all the other follow on trades as well.


Timber | Watertight in Days

So, one of the major advantages with getting a watertight building up so quickly is you can get all the follow on trades, can start coming in within days from the timber arriving on site.


So, once you're building a second floor you can actually begin to get plaster, begin to get carpenters, first-fix trades into the first floor actually beginning their work while the timber is still going up on the floors above. 


Timber | All-Weather Construction

One of the best things about working in timber as well is that actually, you can build at any time of the year. With concrete you're always waiting, it depends on the temperature and you can't build it. You can't pour concrete when it's too cold. you can't pour concrete when it's raining terribly. All these kinds of things. Actually with timber you can put timber up anytime of the year and you


Timber | Building Perfrmance

You're not waiting for the material to cure or to go off. Actually you're building, and you keep on building. Because of the accuracy of the building material, the air tightness is fantastic. So, we're getting near Passive House standards without even trying.


Timber | Environmental Performance

The environmental aspects of building and timber is a very important issue to lots of our clients.


The idea that actually you're building with a material that's replenishable, that you're building with material that stores carbon, within the actual body of the material, it’s incredibly important to a lot of people. 


So, this isn't just a tick box exercise, when you're building in timber, this is actually and natural material. 


You're not quarrying for something, you are not smelting something. 


Timber | Light Foundations

Yeah, a client might come to us with a complicated requirement in terms of foundations, we have a job at the moment where we have building over the Eurostar tunnel


And actually building and building, which is 1/4 of the weight that it would be if it was a concrete building, is a fantastic solution to that problem because, it reduces the foundations, it reduces the slab depths.


Timber | Low Wastage

One of the things that you have very frequently with especially large construction sites, is massive amounts of site waste. When you're building with timber because the panels the timber is arriving perfectly and accurately on site, you’re not cutting bits up, so you've got no site waste you have no endless lorries with skips in, toing and froing from site.


Timber | Low Disruption

On a very tight urban site, timber is a great solution as well because it's so quiet, there's no grinders, there's no cement mixers, there's no jackhammers, no drills. Actually, what you're dealing with is cordless screwdrivers and a very quiet site.


So, we've had sites within eight metres of peoples living rooms, and we had no complaints during the whole construction process.


So, when we built Murray Grove we had three trucks arrive on a Tuesday another two on a Wednesday another couple on a Thursday and then on Friday they were finished. 


Timber | Living Environment

You also have a fantastic living environment, a fantastic environment to work in, the humidity levels, the acoustics. If there's a discussion with the client about whether to build in timber, often for us, it's that argument, which is really that final argument that just tips the balance.

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