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CASE STUDY - Alpine Close, Maidenhead, Berkshire

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Timber cladding played a key role in a social-housing development in Maidenhead, Berkshire, not just for its environmental and technical properties but also in terms of individual identity. Architect Bree Day Partnership used vertical and horizontal timber cladding to differentiate between the 27 homes in the development. And it has worked, according to the practice's Damien Bree: 'Residents have taken great ownership of their homes. There is no environmental damage, no graffiti. And the turnover in occupation is much lower than average.'

Built on a brownfield site 10 minutes from Maidenhead town centre, the project set out to be an exemplar of sustainable design. There are six two-bed houses, two three-bed houses and 19 one-bed flats.

The client specified western red cedar for the cladding because, said Bree, 'it is extremely durable, it is dimensionally stable, and if it has knots, they don't pop out.' He added: 'Because it has its own natural oils inside it, it doesn't need any painting or maintenance.'

The project has now been standing for five years, and Bree is happy with the way that the timber has weathered. 'In dry weather it looks bright silver, ' he said. 'In the rain it becomes darker and more earthy.'

Western red cedar can produce an acidic residue, and this affected the choice of fixings. Vincent Timber, which supplied the wood, advised Bree that it was possible to use double-hot-dip-galvanised nails, phosphor bronze or stainless steel. The architect went for the first as the least expensive option.

'They are annular ring-shank splitless nails, ' Bree explained. This last means that the ends were slightly blunted so they are likely to pass through the fibres of the timber rather than splitting them apart, decreasing the possibility of damage.

Also included in the 'tips and tricks' were the different profiles that were desirable for the horizontal and vertical boarding. The horizontal boarding has a scalloped top edge whereas the vertical elements use a V-shaped tongue and groove for more effective water run-off.

Other elements on the buildings that emphasise the sustainable agenda include sedum roofs which both reduce rainwater run off and act as a protective coat to the waterproofing. With careful consideration given to the environmental performance, the green credentials of this housing are more than skin-deep - but the skin certainly helps.

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