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Ruth Slavid

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'It will never work, ' the builder told me sadly. 'The client will have problems within 18 months, and then they will blame me.' He was talking about a new building, beautiful in concept and where the architect had made substantial use of timber. The problem, he said, was that the architect had not understood the material and was treating it in a way that would make it prey to damp - to swelling, distortion and, possibly, even to rot.

This was not a builder who wanted to be negative about contemporary architecture, and neither is it a negative story about timber. All materials must be understood to be specified properly. Pushing materials to their limits so that they can be used in new and imaginative ways is admirable; ignoring their limitations is not.

The wood. for good campaign is now well established in the consciousness of both the public and the profession. Awareness is growing that timber is an attractive, versatile and environmentally good material to use in buildings. But to use a material well, you must understand what it can and cannot do.

Pitfalls are not a problem with timber alone. My builder friend had equally sorry tales to tell me about other materials. And there is really no excuse for getting it wrong. There are plenty of existing sources of information on timber - TRADA is an obvious one; wood. for good is doing a sterling job; and publications like this supplement aim both to inspire and educate the reader about the use of timber.

My builder friend was depressed because he loved contemporary architecture but disliked seeing exciting concepts ruined by poor detail. The projects shown here are by architects who are also excited by the potential but have not allowed that excitement to overwhelm their judgement. I hope you enjoy reading this supplement as much as I enjoyed editing it. If you treat it as a step in your learning process about a terrific material then in years to come my builder friend, and his successors, may find themselves doing a little less head shaking and a lot more celebrating.

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