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Conference call
Summer 2006
Published:  20 July, 2006

Ruth Slavid, editor of AJ Specification and AJ Online, talks to Richard Harris of Buro Happold (centre) and Gordon Cowley of Timber Engineering Connections

Almost 100 architects gathered to hear timber experts speak on the merits of building in timber. Michael Buckley reports

Architects’ Journal assembled a quality line-up of speakers for its “Timber in Architecture” conference at the RIBA theatre in March. Attended by almost 100 architects, it aimed to provide technical and practical expertise on the use of timber in design, with case studies and keynote presentations from timber experts.
The CPD-certified conference, chaired by Ruth Slavid – editor of AJ Specification and AJ Online and author of Wood Architecture – was supported by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and endorsed by TRADA. Topics covered structural solutions to deliver tall buildings and complex timber frames; enhanced design in timber cladding and joinery; and compliance with sustainable standards and Building Regulations.
Jonathan Hines, director of Architype, opened with “The role of timber in sustainable architecture” addressing the question “why use timber?” and discussed the issues of detailing, sourcing, correct specifications and use without treatment. He illustrated his talk with images of prefabricated buildings and a six-storey timber frame building. His conclusion dealt with the importance of timber construction in reducing CO2 emissions. 
“Opportunities and challenges for timber in design” was presented by Peter Ross, consultant to Arup, and focused on the key to choosing timber and related environmental issues. He also clarified the differences between fire “spread of flame” and “period of fire resistance” that are so often confused. Illustrating the progress being made with different timbers for construction, Peter Ross gave chapter and verse on the research with Arup and BRE that led to publication of AHEC’s new brochure Structural Design in American Hardwoods.
Rupert Oliver, director of Forest Industries Intelligence, gave an  assessment of “Sustainable timber production and sourcing” in wood. He provided data to demonstrate that the availability of certified timber in the UK is still restricted but is increasing from several schemes including PEFC, FSC and SFI. However, he concluded that lack of demand, and unwillingness to pay a price premium, are major obstacles to more rapid uptake.
Luke Hughes of Luke Hughes & Co furniture designer makers, provided a fascinating insight into the development of the affordable high technology which is available to small furniture workshops that are able to offer custom furniture and joinery to architects. He offered his “Ten Commandments of Timber Specification” or the 10 “must-know” technical tips about specifying and using wood successfully. These included issues of timber movement, hardwood properties and sustainable sources.
Richard Harris, principal engineer at Buro Happold, discussed the limits of structural timber frame technology, answering the question of how big it is possible to build with wood, on the basis that strength is not the only limitation.
Complex timber sustainable structures were tackled by Gordon Cowley of Timber Engineering Connections. Cowley developed the Cowley Connector, without which many architects today would not be able to design some of their most successful timber structures. He gave examples using glulam, structural insulated panels (SIPS), engineered wood, curved panels and shell structures and explained how they were executed.
Other papers included issues such as “Sustainability and Part L compliance” by Craig White of White Design; “Timber Cladding Systems” by Dr Paul Newman of TRADA; “Innovative Timber Solutions in Practice” by Alex de Rijke; “Innovation in Timber Treatment and Maintenance” by Ed Suttie of BRE and “Regionally Specific Architecture” by Ian McKay of BBM Sustainable Design.