Wood it be luverly? Hackney’s non-concrete idea

Stadthaus, 24 Murray Grove, Lon N1
Hackney Cllr Vincent Stops 2012
Cllr Stops, and top, the Stadthaus in Hoxton

HURRAH for Hackney: the borough is taking a lead in promoting wooden construction.

Well, that’s how the council puts it. The truth is a little different: a material called cross-laminated wood-panelling hooked the interest of a councillor, Vincent Stops, during a chat with Andrew Waugh, the Hackney  starchitect.

Windmill” Waugh designed the nine-floor Stadthaus (German: townhouse) flat block in Murray Grove, Hoxton, often claimed to be the “world’s tallest modern timber residence”. (British media are notorious for accepting international references dished out by PR people. Timber buildings? Scandinavia, anyone?)

Stops and Waugh decided the material needed publicising. Hence Hackney council’s planning service is hosting a Wood First Conference.

Stops (a Hackney Central member, Labour) said that this is the first London borough to “be promoting the use of timber” – well, cross-laminated wood-panelling – as a first-choice building material. Its use in buildings such as the striking M0ssbourne Community Academy on Hackney Downs is said to be “changing the face of sustainable development” and to reduce construction costs. The panelling is put together, glued, in Austria.

The conference aims to provide “a rigorous examination of the benefits and limitations of using timber as a construction material” and to show how “timber construction is changing the face of sustainable development”.

They could be on to something (something more than mixed metaphors, even). The trouble is that cross-laminated wood-panelling is still too new for Loving Dalston to obtain an impartial assessment of the material. (Thanks for being unable to give an expert comment, Friends of the Earth.)

Hackney Green Party activist Mischa Borris said that the material’s sustainability depended to some extent on the source of the wood and what was in the glue binding the laminates.

She added: “I would like to think that one day we might consensually start reducing human numbers and giving land back to nature rather than gobbling up ever more of it. So any building material that enables a structure to be removed more easily, or reconfigured for different use or have its component parts reused more easily, should be a good thing.”

David Altheer 250412 

* Emboldened underscored words in most cases indicate a hyperlink, a reader service rare among websites. If a link does not work, it is probably because the site to which the URL refers has not been maintained.

Wood First Conference, Rivington Place, Shoreditch, London EC2A 3BA, Thursday 17 May 2012, 11am-3.30pm. If you’re in the building/design business, find out more at the conference. To attend and claim your free lunch, email erin.seah@hackney.gov.uk.

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2 thoughts on “Wood it be luverly? Hackney’s non-concrete idea

  1. As an architect who has built in CLT (cross-laminated wood-panelling/timber), I notice that a few facts have been missed here. Timber is clearly a sustainable material but how sustainable is it to transport this material across Europe to install it in the UK? Not very. There are no CLT manufacturers in the UK but there are other types of timber-frame manufacturers, which use native timber to produce their framing, be it structural insulated panels (SIPS) or traditional timber-frame.

    There are a number of schemes that I have worked on where the scheme has been tendered in concrete or CLT and with the exception of one, concrete has always been cheaper. The reason for this is that unlike Stadthaus and the other Waugh Thistleton schemes, the building was actually designed to take advantage of the properties of CLT and not just a box made from massive timber construction, which could easily be built of any other material. The key here is that old modernist mantra of honesty of materials.

    The Stadthaus may well be the world’s tallest CLT building but in my view it is also most definitely a contender for the world’s ugliest as well. I think it a shame that the Building Design Carbuncle Cup did not pick it up in time to make an award.

    A similar approach has been taken with Kinetica, the building with the wind turbines on that never turn, because there is no wind where the turbines are and if there were, the noise generated by the turbines would be intolerable for the local residents.

    I continue to be impressed with the quality of design expertise among this site’s readership. I shall in my small defence say that the article did refer to the origin of the cross-laminated timber. Incidentally, your presence would be useful at the conference, would it not? — Ed.

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