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
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* 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.