Metsä Wood and Riba Journal roundtable on engineered timber

Rising to the challenges of urban construction
  • |
  • Metsä Wood

Engineered timber structures are growing taller and bolder as technology adds strength to lightness –and the economics are adding up too. Industry experts gathered to assess progress. At a recent roundtable event in London, industry professionals, including architects, designers, planners, and academics discussed the merits of modern timber and how it could be better utilized in urban architecture.

Timber is having its moment. For timber engineers working today such is the pace of innovation and change in the sector that excitement compares to that of steel engineers in downtown Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Timber engineering is gaining momentum – tall buildings are being erected at speed worldwide using engineered timber products, many prefabricated off-site and modular.

So where is engineered timber now? Over the past couple of decades technology has transformed timber from a one-to-four storey stick-build structural product into one that can be used for tall buildings. Yet, as ever, with a large array of experts around the table, there was some dispute about how far it had come and what could be achieved.

Speaking at the event, Rory Bergin of HTA Design said: “We find there is still a lot of anxiety and lack of knowledge, particularly on cost. The way to further innovation is to push at the sweet spots where the benefits are indisputable to the client.”

These comments were echoed by Nick Milestone of B & K Structures, “The people we need to convince are quantity surveyors. I’m starting to see that firms are now measuring the costs of engineered timber against traditional construction. They are saying to developers they can now build it quicker, lighter and cheaper. It is now a competitive solution. Reinforced Concrete frame is becoming very expensive.”

Linda Thiel of Sweden’s White Arkitekter discussed how timber is being used in her country for commercial and public buildings as well as houses, where it wouldn’t have necessarily been considered in the past. She said: “Too often engineered timber is being used simply to replace concrete. Once designers see it as a different material, design will flourish and create a new architecture.”

This is particularly true in urban areas, such as London, where space is at a premium and planners are looking to build on existing structures to maximise every last square foot of space.  

City Above the City architecture competition

Metsä Wood recently ran a competition, inviting architects to design timber structure extensions to existing urban buildings using Kerto® LVL as the main material. Entries were submitted from 69 cities worldwide, including Sidney, Shanghai, New York, Berlin, Paris and London.

One of the 16 entrants based on the city of London was the impressive Chrisp Street Market project by Kalpana Gurung and Robert Buss from Studio Hoopla.

Chrisp Street Market is a 3.6 hectare site near Canary Wharf, built in the 1950s as part of the Festival of Britain, and having been active as a street market since Victorian times. There are currently plans to build 750 new homes while upgrading the existing retail units. According to Gurung and Buss, the proposal will “destroy most of the site and, with it, businesses, homes and community”.

“The Metsä Wood Plan B competition provided an opportunity to address the socially and environmentally unsustainable trajectory of housing development in London.”

“Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) is the ideal material; lightweight, prefabricated modules can be craned into place with minimal disruption to the everyday life of the market.

“Existing residential blocks are extended upwards, using Kerto-Q and Kerto-S LVL modules while new blocks sitting on the podium itself use the same system. The timber is protected from the elements but visible through an aluminium-glazed screen and is exposed throughout residential interiors, providing a highly insulated and high quality finish.

Read more about the Chrisp Street Market project

The Chrisp Street Market project is just one example of how innovative design is challenging the perception of what is possible in urban construction. It is now becoming more widely acknowledged that timber products, such as Kerto® LVL timber have a major role to play in building cities of the future using fast, light and green materials.

More City Above the City competition entries designed for United Kingdom

See all competition entries

For more information, please contact:

Henni Rousu, Communications Manager, Metsä Wood
tel. +358 40 554 8388,