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Cullinan unveils radical 'grid shell' wooden eco-building

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Construction work is set to start on a radical 'grid shell' wooden building which uses 10 times less timber than a normal wood design.

The £1.3 million building by Edward Cullinan Architects and structural engineer Buro Happold, will provide an open access conservation facility at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex. The museum displays and stores vernacular architecture from the south east of England.

The cutting-edge techniques employed by the designers mean the building will use only 6.5 tonnes of timber - compared to more than 60 tonnes for a traditional wooden building of the same size.

The 1800m2 structure is made up of a single rectangular matrix of thin green oak, curved to form a structural shell. For erection, scaffolding supports holding the matrix 10m above the ground are slowly removed to allow the sides to flop down, creating a tunnel effect. The grid is then fixed to form a firm structure which will be clad in locally grown western red cedar. Carpenters estimate the lowering process will take between six and eight weeks.

The grid shell has been computer-designed at Bath University to form three domes, which improve the strength of the building.

The final building will be between 12m and 15m wide with open ends to allow access.

The new conservation centre will allow visitors to see timber building preservation in action. Some of the buildings on display at the museum are more than 500 years old.

Construction is expected to form part of the centre's attractions over the Easter holiday, and a wider audience will be able to watch through a web camera which will broadcast the structure's progress to the museum's website at www.wealddown.co.uk or to Buro Happold's website at www.burohappold.com.

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