If you’re after morale-boosting inspiration on the future of timber in building, you could have done worse than attend the launch of this year’s Wood Awards.

It’s all change for the UK’s annual contest for the use of wood in construction, interiors and furniture. TRADA has taken the management under its wing and, rather than their traditional venue, the impressive, but somewhat austere Carpenters’ Hall in London, the Awards presentations will take place at UK plc’s brand new showcase, the Timber Expo exhibition in September.

In line with other moves to reinvigorate the competition and raise its profile (and it already averages 200-plus entries a year), last week’s launch was intended to be a real architectural crowd pleaser. And it did the trick.

The Wood Awards organisers teamed up with the Wood Talks series of seminars at London’s Building Centre and together they got key players involved with two previous Gold prize winners – the Weald and Downland Museum Gridshell and The Savill Building – to talk about their projects and building with wood in general. The combination of the themes and the top-notch speakers clearly struck a chord because the event was standing-room only. The audience of 175 were mainly architects and engineers. From where I was sitting they looked mainly young and, judging by questions from the floor, they were hooked by the theme and keen to know more.

The message they heard was unequivocal: timber is up to technically demanding building applications, has spectacular design potential and, with growing pressure on UK construction to go low carbon, should be used more.

Rheinhold Schmaderer of Glen Howells Architects, the practice behind The Savill Building, focused on how it can produce lightweight, but very strong structures. The building is 90x25m, but the roof structure, a lattice of finger-jointed larch laths floating on a glass and steel wall, weighs just 30 tonnes.

“The design exploited the best capabilities of timber, using the least to do most,” he said.

I was momentarily befuddled when timber’s superior “torsional modulus of elasticity” was raised by Richard Harris, structural engineer on both buildings. But fortunately he explained that this meant it could twist and bend at the same time. The result on The Savill Building was that, while 6,000 linear metres of laths were used, only two broke during construction.

Steve Corbett, of timber contractor the Green Oak Carpentry Company, described wood as a “very forgiving” material, but one that could also be used very precisely. He acknowledged that, as The Savill Building really pushed the technical boundaries, the removal of the last bit of scaffolding was a heart-stopping moment. “I was standing with my head a couple of feet below tonnes of timber,” he said. “But when the final support went, the structure settled just 6mm.”

Overall, the evening was a ringing endorsement from construction professionals to construction professionals for the technical, aesthetic and environmental merits of timber. It also gave the Wood Awards 2011 a real kick-start. Not only did TRADA marketing manager Rupert Scott use the platform to urge the audience to enter their projects, the other speakers gave the contest a big build-up too, highlighting its record for attracting “innovative, enterprising projects that don’t turn up in other architectural competitions”.

It all boded well for a re-energised event. That in turn should give Timber Expo an added boost and the combination can only be good for the wood industry as a whole.