Teaching Timber: Building Better

27 October 2020

There’s growing realisation that construction has a key role to play in tackling the climate crisis and, within that context, of the need to teach building professionals about using timber, writes Tabitha Binding, university and regional engagement manager, TTF

We are in a climate crisis. The world is warming, disasters are striking and yet we still design and construct, carbon heavy, energy-hungry buildings that are not fit for purpose.

Buildings and construction account for nearly 40% of energy related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and have a significant impact on our natural habitats. Reducing these emissions significantly may give us a chance to keep global warming below 1.5°C in the next century, the point at which climate catastrophe is predicted. We must build better. We must collaborate across disciplines and networks to address the challenges we face.

To build better we must understand building physics, whole life carbon, embodied energy in building materials and in-use operational energy consumption. We must reduce, reuse and retrofit to clear targets that can be measured and verified, that can be taught and learnt.

As shown by Wood for Good’s ‘Wood CO2Ts less’ campaign, trees capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store it as carbon. Mature trees from certified plantation forests are harvested, and their carbon is captured and stored in buildings and other wood products. More trees are planted, and the size of the European forest carbon sink continues to grow.

These forest products can be structural, decorative, insulating, used as cladding, shading, and bring health and wellness benefits.

But how can our next generation of construction professionals know how to design and construct better buildings, when the curriculums that underpin what they are taught, have yet to take account of climate change, building physics and whole life carbon?

That is where I come in as university engagement manager for TRADA, and more recently the Timber Trade Federation (TTF).

As of November 2019, the TTF with its members’ extensive product knowledge and TRADA with its members’ professional knowledge, came together in one collaborative programme. This has increased the breadth and depth of timber education provision, breaking the country into distinct areas aligned to TTF regions and the universities in them.

Our aim is to equip design students with knowledge to face the challenges ahead. So that they graduate, not only comfortable with timber as part of their palette of materials, but also confident and competent to design with both solid and engineered timber, on its own or as part of a hybrid structure, in both new and re-used buildings.

We are not working alone. The London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) Climate Emergency Design Guide lays a clear route map for whole life carbon reduction in the built environment. Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), with which we have worked on Part L of the building regulations and the consultation on ‘Combustible Materials,’ are now addressing ‘Climate Literacy in Education’. The RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge addresses net zero carbon in new buildings by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.

Architects, engineers, and universities have declared a climate and biodiversity emergency. The curriculum bodies are following suit. As a united timber industry, we are ready to collaborate, to upskill lecturers and resource students – teaching timber, so that they can build better.