Some exciting buildings using timber as the main structural material have been constructed in the UK recently. An inspiring collection is shortlisted in the Wood Awards 2003 (formerly the Carpenters Award). They have been chosen from a record 208 entries sent in by architects, designers, joinery companies, builders and their clients.

A design vying for an award in the structural category is the £7m Sheffield Winter Garden, which is constructed using a series of giant larch glulam timber arches.

One of the designs competing against it is a £1.8m oak gridshell building at the Weald and Downland Open Air museum, Sussex. The structure, which houses the museum’s Building Conservation Centre, used hundreds of 35m-long green oak laths and glulam beams for the shell, plus western red cedar for exterior cladding.

Another attractive all-timber building is the David Douglas Pavilion in the Scottish Plant Collectors Garden, Pitlochry, which is in the commercial and public access category. Douglas fir, European larch, oak, ash and elm were used in its construction.

Increasing interest

Wood Awards organiser Michael Buckley, speaking on behalf of the awards sponsors, said: “This is a clear demonstration of increasing interest in the use of wood for buildings and interiors.”

He said the Wood Awards supplement, to be published in October, would go out to 55,000 architects, designers and builders, demonstrating some of the best examples of wood in construction and joinery.

Staying on the design front, Scottish architect James F Stephen, based at Glamis and Stirling, has recently done an interesting timber work – in partnership with celebrated US architect Frank Gehry.

The practice was asked to come up with a timber roof structure for Gehry’s first UK building – Maggie’s Centre, a cancer care centre in Dundee, due to open in September. But it wasn’t an easy process as the roof, in keeping with Gehry’s unusual designs, had to support a stainless steel covering in the shape of a “pleated kilt”.

Architect Fred Stephen said: “We needed timber that could twist in two directions.”

Laminated timber

The solution came from Lincoln-based Cowley Structural Timberwork, which used Kerto multi-ply beams with a twisting profile through the vertical plane. “We tend to use timber in a laminated form, such as flitch beams, to express the structure so people can see how the building stands up,” said Mr Stephen.

Of the timber buildings designed by the practice about 40% are timber kit while 60% are post and beam construction. One of its buildings is Glamis Castle pavilion, which is a post and beam structure using Siberian larch.

Mr Stephen said: “I like to be honest with the architecture in the structure, giving the building individuality. When you express the structure it has a lovely rhythm and it draws the eye.”

He added: “There are benefits to using timber; it tends to make very warm homes, so there is a running cost element and they are easier to erect. Kits can be put up in one day.

“The industry is moving along at great speed. We are learning all the time and finding that timber is a very flexible material.”