Engineered timber structures are growing taller and bolder as technology adds strength to lightness –and the economics are adding up too. Industry experts gathered to assess progress. At a recent roundtable event in London, industry professionals, including architects, designers, planners, and academics discussed the merits of modern timber and how it could be better utilized in urban architecture.
Timber is having its moment. For timber engineers working today such is the pace of innovation and change in the sector that excitement compares to that of steel engineers in downtown Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Timber engineering is gaining momentum – tall buildings are being erected at speed worldwide using engineered timber products, many prefabricated off-site and modular.
So where is engineered timber now? Over the past couple of decades technology has transformed timber from a one-to-four storey stick-build structural product into one that can be used for tall buildings. Yet, as ever, with a large array of experts around the table, there was some dispute about how far it had come and what could be achieved.
Speaking at the event, Rory Bergin of HTA Design said: “We find there is still a lot of anxiety and lack of knowledge, particularly on cost. The way to further innovation is to push at the sweet spots where the benefits are indisputable to the client.”
These comments were echoed by Nick Milestone of B & K Structures, “The people we need to convince are quantity surveyors. I’m starting to see that firms are now measuring the costs of engineered timber against traditional construction. They are saying to developers they can now build it quicker, lighter and cheaper. It is now a competitive solution. Reinforced Concrete frame is becoming very expensive.”
Linda Thiel of Sweden’s White Arkitekter discussed how timber is being used in her country for commercial and public buildings as well as houses, where it wouldn’t have necessarily been considered in the past. She said: “Too often engineered timber is being used simply to replace concrete. Once designers see it as a different material, design will flourish and create a new architecture.”
This is particularly true in urban areas, such as London, where space is at a premium and planners are looking to build on existing structures to maximise every last square foot of space.