Fuelled by the housing market’s appetite for prefabrication, the use of panelised engineered timber products has been on the rise for the last two decades. Our cross-laminated timber (CLT) extension to Hunsett Mill in 2009 with ACME was part of a group of early CLT prototypes in the UK which instilled new confidence within the industry, sparking the timber revolution we now see unfolding across Europe and the US.
This worldwide traction has not only resulted in an unprecedented increase in timber construction over the last decade but has also captured the imagination of the engineering fraternity, with popular headlines capturing the latest utopian ‘wooden towers’.
It is, however, important to note that our obsession with the race to build tall timber may be distracting. High-rise timber is a genuine feat of engineering and the research from such projects is invaluable, but is the ‘prize’ being prioritised over the clarity of design? In 2012, we collaborated with C.F. Møller and DinellJohansson’s HSB Västerbroplan, where the competition winning aspiration was to evolve the Swedish timber prefab model of the 1960s into contemporary high-rise living. Even today, this project is held up as a beacon to timber high-rise; the idea here was not just about engineering or construction, but a lifestyle proposition linked to new ways of thinking in terms of sustainable ecology.
In transferring this model across a range of scales and tenures we have been able to begin to examine how exposed timber in living environments can affect both the psychological and physiological wellbeing of its inhabitants. Our latest collaboration with ACME; Bumpers Oast in rural Kent alongside Haus Gables in the US, illustrates the versatility of timber in creating sustainable and enjoyable homes.
At the other end of the spectrum, we collaborated with architects OFIS in 2017 to explore the concept of ‘permanency’ and whether temporary and demountable timber micro-units could help solve the growing housing challenges of dense urban areas. The resulting Living Unit was erected in a couple of hours within the courtyard of our home at the White Collar Factory and helped illustrate the simplicity of a mobile solution to relieve pressure on our housing market.