Timber in Architecture Supplement 2017 – Editor’s comment

Sustainable, healthy, beautiful, endlessly forgiving and flexible for building with, what’s not to like about wood? While it may not be suitable for absolutely every type of construction, its enduring –  and resurgent – popularity is now seeing timber appear in the most unlikely places.

It is now increasingly familiar to see exposed CLT used to span long distances in buildings such as schools, where they can also add a note of warmth throughout – as featured in our report on two Aberdeenshire schools in this supplement. However there are some more surprising and sometimes controversial examples.

In Barangaroo, Sydney, a CLT and glulam office has recently opened which stands six stories high, and is the first major office building built in engineered timber in Australia, and not exactly a common sight elsewhere at this scale. Lendlease’s 7000 m2 International House (architect: Tzannes) is a real statement of intent, and leads the way for other developers across the world looking to provide intrinsically healthy as well as sustainable environments for staff.

As Alex de Rijke of dRMM postulates in his comment piece on page 10 though, the taller timber buildings that are popping up raise to questions as to not only whether they are genuinely ‘timber’ buildings, but also whether their tallness should be celebrated as an end in itself. Just because you can, with timber, he says, doesn’t mean you should.

Frank Werling of Metsä Wood on page 9 offers a different perspective, that we can look to timber buildings to quickly provide high quality and energy efficient extra stories on existing buildings, as a means to address our worsening housing crisis.

Are there any other building materials which can be used to so successfully and harmoniously create every single structural element of a healthy and high performing building, plus many other details? I doubt it. However as timber becomes more and more a mainstream medium of choice for many architects and developers, moving far beyond cheap timber frames of the past to high-performance tall buildings, inevitably this brings more questions.