The most important buildings in the world: they are in Hackney and they are happening now

MartelBVCLT: Pl brick veneeer and laminate (CLT) flats Martel Pl off Dalsdton Ln Hackney E8 291216 ©
The structures take shape in London E8 and, below, the wood-laminate skeleton

© Waugh Thistleton

* Update 080218: The world’s highest wooden building, 350m tall, will be completed in Tokyo by 2041 if manufacturer Sumitomo Forestry’s plan succeeds. Unlike the building described below, it really will be 90% timber — not ply — and therefore  more environmentally friendly


Vincent Stops, below, head of the borough’s planning committee, hails a Hackney building revolution 

Cllr Vincent Stops, Hackney town hall, London 050615 ©

RISING UP in Hackney is a cluster of buildings that are the most important in the world. They are made of CLT: cross-laminated timber.

The usual building material, concrete, is a worldwide cause of greenhouse gas emissions, whereas CLT stores carbon and comes from a renewable source.

The laminate in the buildings at Martel Place E8 2LX is formed by gluing together planks of timber to produce huge slabs that can have doors and windows machine sawn out of them. The slabs are joined to make walls and floors for a structure that can replace concrete construction up to 10 floors. This material has been around since the 1990s and is used a lot in Austria and Finland. Those countries’ building regulations limit the heights of timber buildings but in the UK the regulations are material-blind: meeting other testable standards is what matters. Contrary to popular belief, what is termed “mass timber” is difficult to ignite and burns slowly and predictably. It passes the same tests as concrete and steel and in some ways exceeds them.

MartelCon: lConcrete lorries at CLT laminate building Martel Pl Dalston 030715 © DavidAltheer [at ]
Lorry lineup, above, as foundations are laid; and below the CLT frame being built

Council planners cannot insist on CLT construction being used by developers, but they can be encouraged to consider it. However, the world’s foremost architects designing in CLT, Waugh Thistleton, are based in Hackney, and the borough now has 23 buildings made largely of the laminate.

At nine floors, Murray Grove in Hoxton is the world’s first tall timber building. Near by in south Hackney the Cube became the tallest at 10 floors and now the Martel Place cluster at the junction with Dalston Lane will be the world’s biggest timber building, by volume and timber used. There is a CLT church in south Hackney and a cinema in Pitfield Street, Hoxton N1 6BU, is being built with the laminate. Hackney has several schools, and its first Passivhaus, in laminate.

Regal Homes, which is building Martel Place, has found that use of the material compares well with concrete construction.

Mass timber/CLT buildings are quicker to erect and to fit out. There’s no dust and builders I’ve talked to love working with the material. You get solid walls, a high quality of construction and CLT needs fewer deliveries to a site than concrete. The building is lighter and needs less in the way of foundations. And CLT is cheaper to build with.

Martel Place development from Dalston London E8 as more skyscrapers arise, these at CLT buildings Martel Pl London E8 251116 © DavidAltheer [at]
View from Ritson Road, E of Martel Place, and below, towards Kingsland shopping mall

There is a downside: the material comes from the Continent. I  hope that one day it can be made in the UK of local timber.

So it with immense pride that I tweet about every new timber building that is erected in Hackney. Perhaps mass timber construction may change the way we build. It may change the world.


The writer  is a (Labour) councillor for Hackney Central ward. He has chaired the borough’s planning committee since 2006.

Martel Pl, Dalston E8, lessening natural light over #Hackney 281116 © DavidAltheer [at]

* Backstory: Another high-rise in HackneyKingsland centre plan collapses; Big money moves on central Dalston; Wood it be luverly  

All pictures on this page © David.Altheer [at], and all for sale for reproduction, apart from the interior-frame pic courtesy of Waugh Thistleton.

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