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TIMBER HITS THE HEIGHTS OF SUCCESS

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TIMBER - LEADER

There's a great-looking brick building in this timber supplement.

Surely some mistake? Well, no. Read the text for the accommodation building at the University of Wales, Swansea, and you will see that this has more than just a few tell-tale timber cladding panels. In fact, architect Architype has designed a building with a timber structure that is, in parts, six storeys high.

Only 10 years ago people would have said it couldn't be done.

But that was before the impressive research carried out by the Building Research Establishment showed it is possible to build that high with timber and satisfy stability requirements in case of fire.

That research was widely publicised but it would have been of little more than academic interest if nobody had used it in real life.

Step forward Architype, a practice with excellent environmental credentials and a predisposition to work with timber. Nevertheless, it would not and could not have built this structure in timber just because it felt like it. Instead, it showed that a steel frame would have been more expensive and that volumetric construction would have offered less certainty on price.

The Swansea student housing is not the only project in this supplement where the virtues of timber will be largely concealed on completion. At Fairmule House in Shoreditch, Quay2c is using prefabricated timber panels for their speed, reliability and good acoustic and thermal properties. This structure will be hidden behind cladding, largely of other materials. There are romantics who love timber for its tactile properties, its gentle and natural appearance and even for its smell. Its merits are exemplified in projects such as the house for Lotte Glob shown here. That was one of numerous projects entered for the Wood Awards, the winners of which will be announced shortly. Amongst the best entries are some that have timber cladding and others with timber structures. Which is more important? It is rather like asking if you would prefer to have good skin or a good bone structure. The answer, of course, is that you want to have both.

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