Timber Construction: Importance of government support
Andrew Waugh, Founder and Director at Waugh Thistleton Architects, was part of a recent visit by Construction Minister Lee Rowley MP to The Black & White Building. Designed by Waugh Thistleton and owned by The Office Group (TOG), the fully engineered timber building providing premium flexible working space, will be the tallest timber office structure in London.
Andrew discusses why the visit was so crucial to the Confederation of Timber Industries (CTI), which is an umbrella organisation representing the UK's timber supply chain, and with which Waugh Thistleton is in partnership.
Government legislation that promotes the use of timber throughout the construction industry is required in order for the UK to meet its net-zero commitments. However, due to the number of interwoven alliances and systems within the legislation, it's simply not as easy as taking building materials out and replacing them with another, which poses a big problem. There are also more speculative parts of the industry that present challenges, such as the nervousness and concern surrounding insurance and pricing.
The minister's visit to The Black & White Building was crucial because it was proof of concept. We were able to demonstrate that timber constructions are cost equivalent to a concrete building, faster to construct, ensure better working conditions on-site and produce a building with a higher financial value. Additionally, landfill waste is minimised and there's an 80% reduction in site deliveries, which all contribute to more sustainable construction practices. We were able to show the minster what a low carbon construction can look like.
A lot of work around sustainability over the past 20 years has been centred on layering additional systems such as triple glazing, the addition of more insulation, building management systems and mechanical heat recovery, but what we really should be focusing on is making things simpler. Timber buildings allow us to find the beauty in simplicity, and to design sufficiently for the purpose of the building and not beyond, which is something that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report explores in more detail along with a global assessment of climate change mitigation progress, along with potential approaches to the overall issue.
It is a fact that timber is currently the only viable alternative to steel and concrete, additionally, it is an existing technology with a sophisticated supply chain. We must reduce our reliance on steel and concrete, ideally by reducing the use of both materials by 50% in the next 8 years, and replacing them with timber. As timber is a uniquely replenishable structural building material for high-density urban construction, we have the opportunity to demonstrate a clear alternative way of doing things, by using an existing system to prompt the evolution of construction.
These changes must happen immediately, and in terms of demand and availability, timber is incredibly well-suited to adopt this in a short time span. In Europe, more than half of the trees felled are burned, so we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of the opportunities with timber, and the timber manufacturing industry is growing exponentially. Governments in Europe and North America are changing their changing building codes and adapting legislation to promote the use of structural timber; the UK is unique only in its failure to do so with the same haste.
It was incredibly important for the minister to visit The Black & White Building to get a good look at what the other countries are getting so excited about, which is a technology that was innovated in the UK and exported around the world by UK firms. The time is upon us to catch up and for the UK Government to take the same action that many others have already taken.
To learn more about The Black & White Building, and other Waugh Thistleton sustainable projects, visit: https://waughthistleton.com/practice/