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Timber in Architecture

One of the most misjudged exhibits at the summer's Interbuild exhibition was, I thought, a ceramic tile designed to look like a section of timber floor.Materials that seek to imitate each other are rarely successful. How much less so when one respectable material pretends to be another with such different properties.

But what a compliment for timber, even if a slightly backhanded one. The material is now such an inherent part of our universe that producers of other materials want some of its glamour to rub off on them. Thanks in part to a changing sensibility, and in part to the efforts of the wood. for good campaign, timber is now embraced as a modern, attractive and environmentally responsible material.

And, as it finds its place in the lexicon of mainstream materials, some of the purism of its longstanding proponents is dropping away. Several of the projects shown on these pages use timber cleverly in harmony with steel and concrete. The imaginative architect needs to understand the potential of all materials and when it is appropriate to use them.

This means that their familiarity with timber needs to be as great as it is with other materials, and that it needs to play as important a part in their education.

Knowledge is percolating through the profession.

Chris Wilderspin's exposition on softwood cladding is an example of the knowledge that is being acquired, and shared.

Of course, when we think of inappropriate use we tend to think of serious errors that could affect durability and long-term appearance. But sometimes common sense can be lacking at a much simpler level. I attended a late summer garden party at which the host had set out some, admittedly elegant, spindly-legged 'Christine Keeler' type chairs on his timber decking.

The inevitable happened and, as one guest sat down, his chair leg slipped between the boards and he took a tumble, along with his glass of fizz. As I was saying, timber is a great material but one must consider carefully the way one works with it.

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