Sep 09

Showcasing the merits of wood

When an acknowledged style Bible extols the virtues of wood, you know that the material’s star is most definitely in the ascendancy. Commenting on the shortlist for this year’s Wood Awards, Wallpaper magazine wrote “we’ve always been partial to the humble building material of timber” and that the annual competition to celebrate wood workmanship “is an excellent showcase of the practices putting it to best use”. High praise indeed, but praise that is more than merited.

Pick of the bunch last year was a new pool complex at London’s prestigious Hurlingham Club. Designed by David Morley Architects, the new pool complex uses timber to excellent effect with the five undulating vaults of the roof formed by a series of prefabricated timber cassettes that create an elegant monocoque structure, uninterrupted by beams or joists.

But the standard for the Wood Awards, widely recognised as the UK’s premier award scheme celebrating excellence in design in wood, seems to get higher every year, cover a wider design and application spectrum and use a broader palette of timber and wood products than ever. A record entry of 318 British projects is further evidence that designers and architects love timber: its aesthetics are difficult to match, it’s flexible, and, of course highly sustainable. Whittling down the entries to a shortlist of 30 must have been no easy matter!

And, if you went to get up close and personal with timber, the shortlisted projects will be showcased at Timber Expo, now at the NEC in Birmingham from 24-25 September, as well as 100% Design in London from 18-21 September.

Of course, it’s no good using – and praising – timber if no one can see the evidence of it. But this year’s shortlist includes some high profile projects that are most definitely in the public consciousness.

mary-rose-museum-377p189_c-luke-hayesOne of the most talked about is the Mary Rose Museum, an elliptical timber-clad building designed by London office Wilkinson Eyre Architects and housing the sixteenth century Tudor warship. The architects designed the museum with a stained black exterior, intended to reference traditional English boat sheds, and a disc-shaped metal roof that curves up over its elliptical body. “We designed a museum that would recreate the experience of being on board the ship hundreds of years ago and created a context gallery to highlight its precious contents,” said studio principal Chris Brandon.

Other shortlisted projects include Atmos Studio’s undulating RoominaRoom in London, using birch plywood, European oak and American black walnut, the soaring Abraham Sports & Learning Community building in Telford, with its huge CLT roof supported by massive glulam pillars and the stunning European oak, American ash and glulam interior of Bishop Edward King Chapel in Oxford.

rigg_beck_3_c_charles_hoseaAt the other end of the scale are Rigg Beck, a private house in Cumbria that perfectly blends timber and Lakeland stone, and the intriguing Expandable Surface System, comprising geometrically perforated birch ply that can be moulded into virtually any shape of structure.

Furniture entries are equally diverse; ranging from multi-coloured dining chairs to a chest of drawers that looks hewn from a solid block of wood. Angus Ross’s deconstructed Tay Bench in Scottish and European oak is shortlisted alongside a second Atmos Studio project, 16 metres of continuous integrated landscape furniture in Latvian birch plywood with seating for 80 people.

What the Awards demonstrate more clearly than ever is that UK architects, builders and designers are not only increasingly drawn to timber, but also increasingly confident about using it in aesthetically and structurally demanding applications: these are the principles to which TRADA has always adhered to, and will continue to do so for the future.

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