23 January 2018
‘Britain could miss out on renaissance in timber construction’ say celebrated architects
A panel of world-famous architects has highlighted the need to develop more ‘home-grown’ expertise through training and vocational learning – and a greater understanding of timber in the construction industry.
Speaking at Timber Expo 2017 at the NEC Birmingham, leading experts commented that Britain could miss out on a world-wide renaissance in timber construction because of a lack of investment in building methods and skilled workers.
According to research, 70 per cent of all new houses built around the world are now made from timber. In the UK, the figure stands at just 25 per cent.
A range of sophisticated engineered wood products that have been used for decades in Germany, Austria and Switzerland are now making their way around Europe and beginning to take hold in the UK.
Steven Wallis of dRMM talked about the role timber played in restoring Hastings Pier to its former glory. He said: “Clients are coming to us with the specific wish to build in timber, which is quite different from a few years ago when there was more of a journey to take. There is a need for greater timber knowledge in construction, and with more training and vocational-type learning we can encourage more people into the industry.”
Darron Haylock of Foster & Partners provided a fascinating insight into how timber was used to bring comfort and hope to cancer sufferers at Maggie’s at the Robert Parfett Building in Manchester. He said: “We are struggling in the UK to find specialist contractors who can deal with the timber creativity required to push boundaries. The two leading contractors we used for Maggie’s were overseas contractors. We need to develop that knowledge and experience in the UK and promote the use of timber in our buildings.”
Rick Sharp of Fairhursts Design Group talked about building the UK’s first timber chemistry laboratory. He said: ‘In the past there was a reluctance to build in timber but that’s changing. Our client wanted to create a very beautiful building that they could use as a sales tool to attract the top professors and undergraduates. There are economic benefits to building in timber because they take your business to the next level.”
TRADA’s Rupert Scott called for more investment in timber engineers, contractors, project managers and factories. He said: “Timber expertise still has a long way to go in the UK, so we need to find ways to attract and train the brightest and the best. We need to look at the skills shortage that exists today and as an industry work together to address that.
“Young talent needs to see that there is a future in building in timber, and we need to create even more impressive structures to gain their interest. Some government intervention into research and training would lead the way to more sustainable timber construction taking place in the UK.”
As a brave new world of digital design and fabrication emerges, the time has never been better to equip the next generation of technologically savvy timber engineers and architectures with the skill sets needed to embrace this exciting new market.
Watch Jon Shanks of Buro Happold at last year’s Timber Expo, as he looks to the skills of the past to create a vision of the master builder/designer of the future, and shares his perspective on the knowledge and responsibilities required to help Britain lead the way in this new innovation.
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