designTimber wrap up: showcasing timber excellence


With the conclusion of the second series of designTimber webinars – our flagship talk series that showcases the very best timber buildings in the UK – we look back on some of the incredible insights that have been shared.  

Featuring award-winning project teams, the six talks have delivered fascinating ‘behind-the-scenes’ presentations of some of the UK’s finest examples of contemporary timber architecture and design.

Over twenty architects, engineers, contractors, fabricators, clients and built environment professionals were involved in the talks, which were attended by more than 460 learners, and have been viewed over 1,200 times on our YouTube channel.

Selected from the winners and shortlist of the Wood Awards 2022, featured projects included Feilden Fowles’ ceremonial dining hall, with a striking butterfly truss roof; a converted steel-frame water tower home by Tonkin Liu; a raised riverside house built using an innovative OSB cassette system by Knox Bhavan Architects; and the refurbishment and restoration of an Edinburgh church centre by Konishi Gaffney Architects.

The finale of the series included UK Hardwoods’ beautiful industrial shed, built from UK-grown glulam, and the story of the truly unique Fenland Black Oak project – from the unearthing of an ancient tree to its present glory as a public table.

Across the talks, the multidisciplinary panels provided valuable insights into designing, engineering, specifying and building with timber. Speakers delved into a wide range of approaches to timber design and construction, from steel-timber hybrids to offsite MMC to putting low-grade local timber to good use.

Each presentation included structural detailing and information about specification and sourcing. While discussing the particular challenges, complexities and successes of their projects, the speakers also reflected thoughtfully on what might have been done differently.

We would like to thank all of the contributors to designTimber for their generous presentations, which have made the series such a successful platform for the sharing of timber design knowledge.

All the talks can be caught up on below:

Homerton College Dining Hall

The first talk focused on Feilden Fowles’ majestic timber-framed dining hall, in which high-performing engineered sweet chestnut glulam is combined with traditional carpentry connections to glorious effect.

Architect Eleanor Hedley from Feilden Fowles, engineer Sophie Frith from Structure Workshop and timber specialist Paul Tracey from Constructional Timber delivered a detailed lecture, focusing particularly on the form-defining butterfly truss timber frame.

The designers described how they worked together to find a pared back structural solution that made the most of the natural capacities of their chosen materials. Shaped by the limitations of available timber spans and designed to benefit from the stiff and heavy faience façade, the form of the truss was shown to have precedence in traditional ecclesiastical construction.

Water Tower

The second talk of the series was given by the team behind the Water Tower – a unique reuse project which saw a dilapidated, locally-beloved water tower salvaged and transformed into an enchanting family home.

Architect Mike Tonkin from Tonkin Liu and structural engineer Mervyn Rodrigues described how the CLT interior strengthens the fragile steel frame from within. An especial highlight was their description of the exquisite compression spiral staircase, which inexpensively provides both strength and visual delight to the project.

Client Dennis Pedersen then took the audience on a video tour of the tower, revealing the tower’s delightful interior character and its views out over the landscape.

March House

Featuring architect Fergus Knox from Knox Bhavan, engineer Tim Lucas from Price & Myers, and Jonathan Green from digital manufacturing specialists BlokBuild, the third webinar presented March House – an innovation in bespoke modular design.

Sitting on a steel table-top platform, raised above the hundred-year predicted water level, this riverside home was designed to harmoniously integrate with its environmental surroundings and provide a life-long residence for its occupier.

In their presentation, the team describe how they worked together to design and construct the house using a modular OSB cassette system which was developed through this very project. Attendees were able to learn about what this system enabled in terms of design, about the off-site manufacture of the various cassettes and the particularities of how they were installed onsite.

Greyfriars Charteris Centre

In the fourth session, architect Kieran Gaffney from Konishi Gaffney Architects, engineers Andrew Forshaw and Mike Gauld from Forshaw Gauld, and designer-makers Neville Rae and Scott Laverie from Old School Fabrications presented their restoration and retrofit of the Greyfriars Charteris Centre.

With a timber extension and interior reconfiguration, the underused church and administrative buildings underwent a remarkable transformation into a bright, thriving community centre.

In their presentation, the team focused especially on the design and fabrication of the beautifully crafted open stair and the inserted timber ‘link’ building, which came to define this complex, multifaceted project.

Structurally, it was also an interesting case study showing the contributions of timber in a hybrid-structure retrofit of an existing building.

UK Hardwoods Storage Building

Project lead and client Tom Bedford from UK Hardwoods was joined by co-director of UK Hardwoods Polly Bedford and structural engineer Robin Nicholson from Buckland Timber in their presentation of the UK Hardwoods Storage Building: an industrial shed built from UK-grown glulam.

Presenting from inside the glorious building, the team explained how the project went from initial idea to built reality. With a great wealth of specialist timber knowledge between them, the team described how they used the timber from the client’s own land, which had been earmarked for felling due to larch disease, to create the glulam and build the structure: providing a perfect home for more UK timber.

Fenland Black Oak Project

In the series’ final session, we heard from leading members of the large multi-disciplinary team behind the incredible Fenland Black Oak Project – winner of the Bespoke category in the Wood Awards 2022.

Project lead Hamish Low and designer Mauro Dell’Orco explained the epic process of how a 5,000-year-old oak tree, found preserved underground in East Anglian bog land, was transformed into a spectacular 13-metre public table.

They were joined by guest speakers – archaeologist Dr Francis Pryor and pre-historic wood expert Maisie Taylor – who gave fascinating context to the origins of the black oak tree and its place in society at the time of these ancient forests.

The talk powerfully expressed the care and devotion of Low, Dell’Orco, and the many others involved in the project, in preserving and honouring this rare wood through beautiful design and craftsmanship.