What does it take to be a winner

20 September 2016

Engineered timber products are opening new horizons for wood, notably in construction. But, says Peter Wilson, architect, director of Timber Design Initiatives Ltd and TTJ Awards judge, to realize their even greater future potential demands ‘serious investment’ in R&D

Being a judge for an industry award is a significant responsibility and the TTJ Achievement in Engineered Timber Award is one where, for a number of years, it has been my immense privilege to scrutinise the entries, before agreeing the winner with my fellow judge, Luke Whale of C4Ci. Given that other TTJ Awards justifiably aim to recognise success within the wider timber trade, what makes this one different? In what ways has the importance - and value - of the subject matter increased year-on-year?

Nowadays we understand all sorts of timber products to fall within the ‘engineered’ timber category, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon. Previously the term was mainly attributed to I-joists, platform timber frame and panel products, such as OSB. But today the emphasis has shifted to embrace a range of advanced and highly sophisticated timber products that includes not only tried and tested glue laminated timber (glulam), but also cross laminated timber (CLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL), laminated strand lumber (LSL) and parallel strand lumber (PSL), together with non-adhesive based products including dowel- and nail-laminated elements. Singly, in combination, or in hybrid composite form with other materials, these developments are not only changing the way we think about design and construction, they are being used in a variety of building types, some entirely new and without precedent. Why should this be so?

More and more architects and engineers are looking favourably on timber’s possibilities in urban construction and new projects are emerging worldwide that push current timber technologies to their limits. Global population is gravitating towards cities and with it demand for more environmentally responsible construction and energy use. These imperatives are facilitating highly creative thinking about where and how far engineered timber can go, and much of the manufacturing sector is having to work hard to keep up. It seems just yesterday we were celebrating construction of the Stadthaus in London’s Murray Grove, then the world’s tallest timber residential building. But in the eight years since, the height and ambition of tall timber building has grown exponentially, with designs up to 30 storeys increasingly common and, controversially perhaps, structures up to 80 storeys now being mooted.

In addition, the basic elements need no longer be all right angles and replicable: parametric modelling at design, combined with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) routers and other robotised plant, are facilitating whole new ways of thinking about forms, shapes and the bespoke nature of buildings we can construct with engineered timber.

But in this positive new environment for wood, serious investment in R&D is vital if the industry is to capitalise on the potential business opportunities out there. This years’ Achievement in Engineered Timber Award shortlist and especially the winner show the way, really highlighting the market possibilities ahead.

Peter Wilson