The use of timber in building and construction offers a paradox to the designer and the engineer. On one hand timber is one of the oldest construction materials known to mankind, which means for many its use is associated with traditional crafts such as boat and carriage building, cooperage, parquetry and cabinet work. On the other, for an increasing number of those in the vanguard of design and construction, wood is a material for the modern age.
Increasingly, modern applications using solid timber, laminations and lightweight sheet materials, curves and complex shapes on grid shell structures are being featured in cutting edge design. Computer aided design, engineered wood products, advances in connectors and the ability to combine wood with other materials has breathed new life into a traditional material.
There is another reason why timber is undergoing a renaissance. Concerns over the sustainability of building and construction materials have focused attention on the energy requirements in processing and manufacturing materials and the thermal efficiency of building systems.
There is, of course, an important qualification, and that is the wood must come from sustainably managed forests. More than 90% of all wood used in building and construction in the UK comes from within Europe and European forests and woodlands are expanding at over 800,000ha each year. Forests and woodlands are not just solar powered wood production factories. As well as providing a source of renewable raw materials forests provide an important habitat for plants and animals and a recreational resource for society. They protect water catchments and contribute to the landscapes that define the regions in which we live. The specification of wood from well managed forests is a decision designers and engineers can make which delivers a modern well functioning building which does not cost the earth.