The Jouranal or Green Building: LSBU case by Mike Kane & Ron Yee

​Extract of an article published in the Journal of Green Building, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Winter 2017) pp. 11-35

Original title: The Walworth alternative: Retaining and enhancing Britain’s social housing estates utilising contemporary timber construction


This paper describes the research designs of London South Bank University (LSBU) Masters of Architecture students who investigated the future housing needs of expanding cities, focusing in detail on the Walworth area of South London as a potential model for application elsewhere. The students then proposed innovative ideas on how to expand and remodel the Aylesbury Housing Estate through the use of contemporary timber construction without resorting to wholescale demolition.

The study is part of ongoing research into resource efficient architecture and planning by the M. Arch - Resource Studio 22 tutored by Mike Kane and Ron Yee at LSBU. The field of study was inspired by the Metsä Wood’s Plan B research program of case studies on iconic buildings, such as the Empire State Building in New York and the Colosseum in Rome, that re-engineered them in timber.

During the study period LSBU with the support of Metsä Wood organised the “Urban Wood” seminar where 3 renowned architects were invited to speak about building advanced engineered timber buildings within dense urban London locations. 



Future London

The Walworth today 

The recent densification of many ‘world cities’ is commonly driven by an expanding residential demand caused by an explosion in population growth. Often, this results in the ‘old city’ being replaced or expanded outwards with super-dense developments which universally disregard any relationship with location, climate or local culture.

The current provision of housing in London is continually described in the media as ‘a housing crisis’. The cause of this ‘crisis’ has been grossly exacerbated by the recent rapid rise in property prices, along with other factors such as a global international investment shift into property, the availability of low interest capital, and a lack of housing supply for an increasing urban population.

Walworth is to the South of Elephant & Castle and is within walking distance of both the City of London and Westminster, and has fast public transport connections to the burgeoning financial district of Canary Wharf. Historically, the Walworth area was a working class district of social and private rented housing with many small scale artisanal workplaces and a vibrant street culture dating back to Roman times.

Following both World Wars, large scale social housing infilled the derelict and vacant sites. Exacerbated by long term public subsidy cutbacks, and a lack of necessary investment, a social and physical decline in housing conditions developed, and the estates became less attractive and costly for Southwark Council to maintain. This led to the council proposing a wholesale redevelopment of both estates, despite an overwhelming community vote to refurbish rather demolish. Both estates are currently undergoing a rapid and radical change in unpopular housing provision which has resulted in community protests, acts of resistance and legal actions resisting the privatisation of its social housing.

Urban  Wood

Urban Wood seminar organised by LSBU and Metsä Wood 

Organised with the support of Metsä Wood, the Urban Wood seminar was one element of an ongoing programme of study for the ‘Walworth Alternative’ research programme within the LSBU Architecture School. Three renowned London Architects were invited to speak about building advanced engineered timber buildings within dense urban locations in London.

The purpose was to discuss and expand on the potential for tall timber structures utilising newly developed timber technologies such as CLT (cross laminated timber) and LVL (laminated veneer lumber). Andrew Waugh (Waugh Thistleton Architects), Alex de Rijke (dRMM Architects) and Jon Broome (Jon Broome Architects) along with Frank Werling (Structural Engineer from Metsä Wood UK) presented, and Mike Kane (Senior Lecturer LSBU) chaired the event. Several built and potential design projects were presented with the aims of sharing experiences and real-world research of dense urban timber buildings potential for creating a more sustainable city.

Research & Design:  Future Walworth

London Walworth area - sustainable future 

The focus of the initial research was on exploring ways in which living in the city can become less reliant on consuming energy and food and material resources from increasingly distant sources. Cities typically originated in places because they had local or easy access to all these resources; however, this is not the case in the majority of recently expanded world cities. Both the physical and social context of the existing city is considered to be a positive asset to be enhanced. Walworth is used as a potential model for other world cities, bearing in mind that essential local particularities may make a universal single solution inadvisable.

Research was based on the following parameters:

  1. Existing residents & communities should be supported, enhanced and expanded.
  2. Existing structures should be retained and refurbished, with additional structures in timber where possible.
  3. Additional housing should be provided, due to the current housing needs of a city.
  4. Assuming the property remains in the ownership of the council, any new housing should be at affordable social rents.
  5. Provision for growing food is paramount, and should be integral to the design of both individual and shared landscapes.
  6. Special consideration should be focussed on the carbon footprints of proposals and how this can be minimised. Existing structures should be retained in order to reduce the impact of energy requirements due to construction materials, fabrication and distribution.

Student prototypes

Student prototypes for London Urban Wood 

For the purpose of this paper, four key building scenarios have been selected to illustrate the potential alternative approaches. They illustrate a variety of solutions to provide an inclusive and productive alternative to the ‘consumptive city’.

Learn more about the prototypes from the original article or click to the project introduction pages:


Values guide Metsä Group's operations 

As demonstrated, a ‘rejuvenated city’ based on a more productive, socially robust, and genuinely sustainable model is economically feasible and achievable in real world conditions which can allow the city to expand both in density and diversity. The above prototypes demonstrate that this is possible as a desirable social option and more cost effective than the commonly practiced development model. Not only can we build on established communities, we can also make the city a place of production, reducing the need to consume vast quantities of food, goods and energy from increasingly distant markets. These prototypes also illustrate how future development can be “low carbon” and “low energy” causing minimal impact on total CO2 emissions through the use of timber as a sequestering building material that doubles as a carbon store. Timber, being a comparatively lightweight structural material, allows for increased accommodation on development sites that build upon existing structures, quicker erection, with minimal disturbance to the neighbourhood. The potential of LVL and CLT has yet to be fully exploited as an innovative architectural technology and through increased use could help society address the problems we face due to population growth and global warming in the necessary expansion of cities. The use of timber in urban construction has numerous advantages in supply, transportation, ease of construction, and ultimately as a sequestering product, as it acts as a carbon store rather than a carbon emitter.

The authors

Mike Kane

​​Mike Kane is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture and Director of KMK Architects. His primary interest focuses on the ways in which cities can prepare themselves for the changes in climate, limitations on resources, and unprecedented urban growth. He has regularly contributed to the Energy & Resource efficiency module and has a keen interest in the low-carbon and resource efficient Architecture. His focus is concerned with a progressive and informed achitectural design approach & the energy input to construction prior to occupation.

​Ronald Yee is a practising architect and part time tutor on the MArch course at LSBU. He teaches at the same Masters Unit as the Mike Kane.

He has a particular interest in resource efficient structures and specialises in long span bridge design. Built projects include:- Pont Vasco da Gama - Portugal; Tsing Ma Bridge - Hong Kong; Bhumibol Bridges - Bangkok; and the River Suir Bridge - Waterford.