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‚ÄčThe Development of the Building Envelope Using Welsh-Grown Timber: A study Through Prototyping

Dr Steven Coombs, Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University

Awards RIBA President's Awards for Research 2017
Category Design & Technical

Additive construction of Beach hut determined by 1200mm hardwood lengths and properties © Steven Coombs

This research explores the use of Welsh-grown timber in the building envelope, through the prototyping of a series of live design projects with a focus on species, technology and tectonic form. Projects are clustered under 4 headings identified as significant to the Welsh timber industry: hardwoods, engineered timber, timber board products and the complete timber envelope. The Welsh timber industry relies heavily on the importation of sawn wood, timber board products and innovative, engineered timber systems to meet an increasing demand to improve construction efficiency and environmental performance of the building envelope. Compared to Europe and regions such as the Vorarlberg, Austria, Wales is perceived as having an underdeveloped and underperforming timber construction industry with only 15% forest cover to supply a variety of timber sectors. This research analyses the properties of Welsh-grown soft and hardwoods, the technical and skill limitations and opportunities of the industry and highlights the impact of the use of timber on the tectonic form of the building envelope. These evaluations inform the observations and reflections of 12 architectural prototype projects to demonstrate potential to exploit the Welsh-grown timber crop in the design and construction of the architectural building envelope. The research demonstrates that it is possible to use Welsh-grown timber for a variety of modular superstructure, cladding and external joinery systems. The findings identify limitations, such as a lack of research and development investment, from government and business, and a lack of knowledge and focused direction across the industry. However, the prototype projects show that the unique properties of timber, sustainably grown, managed and processed in Wales can be innovatively manufactured and assembled into prefabricated, components for the design and construction of the low-energy architectural building envelope. Furthermore, the properties, technology and skills available have informed an additive tectonic approach that is specific to Welsh-grown timber.

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