The World’s first building made from hardwood cross-laminated tulipwood opens in Oldham

Maggie’s Oldham, the world’s first building made from hardwood cross-laminated timber (CLT), has opened in the UK. Designed by dRMM Architects and supported by the American Hardwood Export Council, this is a pivotal moment for modern architecture and construction.

Maggie’s is a charity that provides practical and emotional support to people living with cancer. Built on the grounds of specialist NHS cancer hospitals, Maggie’s Centres are warm and welcoming places with qualified professionals on hand to offer a programme of support shown to improve physical and emotional wellbeing.

This pioneering piece of permanent architecture is constructed from more than 20 panels of five layer cross-laminated American tulipwood, ranging in size from 0.5m – 12m long.

American tulipwood CLT was pioneered in 2013 by dRMM, AHEC and Arup for its unparalleled strength and lightness, speed of construction and sustainability. American tulipwood is approximately 70% stronger in bending than a typical CLT grade softwood. The structural CLT panels for Maggie’s Oldham were developed by CLT specialists, Züblin Timber.

The first public experiment with this building material was The Endless Stair, created during the London Design Festival 2013. Arup’s engineering calculations show the structure could have supported 100 people at any one time.

Tulipwood CLT is one of the most sustainable timber species because of how fast it replenishes, through natural growth alone.

Maggie’s Oldham contains 27.6m3 of American tulipwood and 1.1m3 of American ash, equivalent to around 55.22m3 and 2.1m3 respectively of sawn wood before processing, which in terms comes from around 115.7m3 of logs – and all these logs will be replaced in just 120 seconds (108 seconds for the tulipwood and 12 seconds for the ash).

Design Elements

dRMM co-founder Prof. Alex de Rijke’s experiments with engineered timber have progressed during 30 years in practice and academe. The studios building and furniture projects have pushed the structural, environmental, and aesthetic properties of engineered timber, from plywood to engineered softwood, and now to the collaborative invention of hardwood CLT.

“From the Oldham project inception we knew it was the right material for Maggie’s, not only structurally and visually, but conceptually. An elevated, open plan, all-timber and glass building – with trees growing through it, and every detail considered from the perspective of use, health, and delight – was always going to be special,” says Alex de Rijke.

“Maggie’s Oldham has a built-in, very visible holistic design message that supports the central aims of the design – to uplift and offer hope to people living with cancer. The applications for sustainably grown hardwood, particularly fast growing tulipwood CLT is endless. The environmental, structural and visual qualities are demonstrated explicitly at dRMM’s Maggie’s; a manifesto for wood as the natural choice for contemporary architecture of physical and psychological well-being’.”

For AHEC, Maggie’s Oldham is one of the most important developments in a decade of research and development into structural timber innovation and one that could broaden the use of CLT in the construction industry. The creation of this product and significant use of hardwood will transform the way architects and engineers approach timber construction.

About tulipwood CLT and sustainability

Tulipwood is the fourth most abundant timber in U.S. hardwood forests, representing 7% of the total growth, only exceeded by American red oak (18%), white oak (15%) and soft maple (11%). It grows in all 33 states that are home to U.S. hardwoods (generally on the eastern side of the country) and is most abundant in North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

And it is under-exploited. Not only is the amount of growth greater than the level of harvesting in every state, but in all of them the harvest level is less than half of the growth level. This is partly because tulipwood is a fast-growing timber and regenerates, not only by natural reseeding, but also by re-growing from the stumps of harvested trees.

In addition, and particularly useful in structural applications, it has a very high strength to weight ratio – that is, it is much stronger than one would expect for the weight. American tulipwood CLT is around three times stronger and stiffer in ‘rolling shear’ than its softwood equivalent.

Like all timbers, tulipwood is a carbon store. Calculations show that, at the point at which the tulipwood reached the factory in Germany where the CLT is fabricated – after felling, sawing, drying and transport – it was still storing far more CO2 than had been generated through its processing and transport.

About Maggie’s

Maggie’s offers free practical and emotional support for all people living with cancer and their family and friends, following the ideas about a new type of cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks.

Built in the grounds of specialist NHS cancer hospitals, Maggie’s Centres are places with warm and welcoming places, with qualified professionals on hand to offer people living with cancer the support they need.

Great architecture is vital to the care Maggie’s offers; and to achieve that Maggie’s works with great architects like the late Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, whose expertise and experience deliver the calm, uplifting environments that are so important to the people who visit and work in the Centre.

The first Maggie’s Centre opened in Edinburgh in 1996. Maggie’s Oldham is the 21st Centre to open and opens in the charity’s 21st year. Maggie’s Oldham joins a network of 20 existing Centres across the UK and abroad. Maggie’s also has an Online Centre.

Who was Maggie?

Maggie’s follows the ideas about cancer care originally laid out by Maggie Keswick Jencks. Maggie lived with advanced cancer for two years and during that time she used her knowledge and experience to create a blueprint for a new type of care for anyone living with cancer. Maggie’s Centres are built around her belief that people should not “lose the joy of living in the fear of dying.”