28 November 2018

The dawning of the Timber Age: Better Timber Buildings conference round-up

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The Better Timber Buildings conference, which took place on 15 November at the Royal Geographical Society, London, was a carefully curated programme of talks dedicated to levelling up the timber industry. With enthusing statements and informative guidance, almost 200 delegates heard from a line-up of inspiring speakers with contrasting specialties who spoke with one theme in common: building better buildings with timber.


Anthony Thistleton, founding Partner of Waugh Thistleton and passionate timber advocate, launched the day with his key note address calling in the coming Timber Age. He set the theme for the day, announcing: ‘We’ve had the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and last century was the Concrete Age. An ancient material … brought new possibilities through engineering techniques. First uses of concrete mimicked traditional building forms but through the century a whole architecture of concrete that was very much emblematic of the 20th century came into being – a new architecture and ultimately a new urbanism. We’re very excited by the Timber Age … already we’re seeing this new architecture emerge and what we haven’t begun to understand is what this new urbanism of the Timber Age will be’.


This was a resounding theme throughout, with speakers highlighting their views on the possibilities of this new architecture and new urbanism, and sharing the tools necessary to achieve it.


Paul Edwards, Associate at Arup, ran delegates through the thought processes and intricate design details behind The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Centre, providing in-depth information about the exposed timber roof structure which floats above it.


Dr James Norman, Programme Director for Civil Engineering at the University of Bristol, gave us an energetic timber building concept design masterclass using TRADA’s Structural timber elements: a pre-scheme design guide, which he authored.  The guide, intended as an at-a-glance reference for structural timber options, utilises the experiences of several timber designers and is designed to assist engineers who have limited experience with timber.


Greg Cooper, Managing Director of Hybrid Structures, along with Kelly Harrison, Associate Engineer at Heyne Tillett Steel, gave us insight into TRADA’s National Structural Timber Specification (NSTS). In 2012, Greg explained, there were both steel and concrete specifications, but none for timber – and it was vital one was created. A timber specification reduces the need for bespoke specifications and provides specifiers and contractors with a single, consistent source to draw from. The resulting NSTS encompasses everything that every other specification of a structural material does, in order to meet the demands of a structure. After all, he continues, ‘get the structure wrong and it’s going to perform incorrectly’.


Rupert Scott, Membership & Marketing Manager at TRADA, simplified the fire performance requirements for timber cladding and structural walls into an easily digestible format, and gave some background to approaching changes.


Robin Lancashire, Senior Timber Frame Consultant at Exova BM TRADA and an influential part of the TRADA advisory team, shared practical tips on designing CLT for durability and the methods by which moisture ingress during construction can be best prevented.


Marc Separovic, Senior Technical Project Manager at NHBC, talked us through timber frame-specific construction quality – including root causations of extremely good quality as well as below par quality – and highlighted trends in timber frame construction as indicated by the findings of NHBC surveys and reports.


As Oliver Booth, Partner at Gardiner & Theobald, said, ‘there’s no building you can’t cost’ – but some are a little more challenging. In his talk, he explained that there’s a whole bank of data which makes costing reinforced concrete, structural steel and loading brickwork easy. However, timber structures which can utilise a variety of timber systems using different timber species (each with a different cost, because there are different drivers on that cost) require a different approach altogether. He suggested early engagement and collaboration with the supply chain would be vital in progressing this approach.


Of the conference in full, TRADA’s Rupert Scott says: ‘I’m proud of the fact that TRADA possesses a diverse audience across the entire construction supply chain – and this was never more obvious than in the broad variety of backgrounds we had in attendance at our Better Timber Buildings conference. As an association TRADA believes that we need everybody’s contribution in order to mature the timber industry, and what better way to bring it all together than with a line-up of experienced and knowledgeable speakers. Our goal with the conference was to create something coherent and applicable, which our delegates could begin applying to their respective processes as soon as possible’.


He added: ‘Many thanks to our incredible line-up of speakers, who delivered their informative presentations with real passion for timber. I would like to thank Anthony, Paul, James, Kelly, Greg, Robin, Marc and Oliver for their heartening support as we strive to mature our industry. It was a fantastic day; already the feedback we’ve received has been encouraging’.


Attendee Pietro Gallus, Associate Director of Waterman Structures Ltd, said: ‘It was a very interesting day, with many aspects of timber design and construction discussed by competent and passionate presenters. I think it was a well-rounded selection of topics – from structural design tools to features of notable projects, from fire and durability performances to insurance and costing aspects. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of the pre-scheme design guide, which is a tool that structural engineers should treasure’.


Many thanks to our exhibitors ZÜBLIN Timber, Pliteq UK, Gilmour & Aitken, PIVETEAUBOIS, Wiehag, Steico UK Ltd, Heyne Tillett Steel and the Structural Timber Magazine, for their fantastic support on the day.