1 November 2010

Why no wood?

Over the recent weeks we have attended a couple of really interesting seminars about the use of timber or hybrid timber structures at the Building Centre. They included presentations about a range of different buildings types that are now employing timber frames.

Winter gardens - Sheffield.

Tesco discussed how they have developed the use of timber frames through a number of projects and have refined the detail and reduced the costs. In their project in Cambridge they claim to have achieved carbon neutrality and this is partly achieved by the quantity of carbon that is sequestered within the timber structure.

Timber structure to Cafod roof space

Andy Wright presented his scheme for The Hub leisure centre in Scunthorpe that uses a series of beautiful timber framed geodesic domes to cover swimming pools and other leisure uses. The use of wooden structures for swimming pools has a long tradition in the UK, so why did we not continue it when it came to building the Olympic pool? The plate girder steel roof structure used has more in common with heavy Victorian engineering than lean, efficient, low embodied energy engineering. In fact this structure uses thirty times the amount of material used to make the similar sized, two way curving roof of the Velodrome... But then if you select what you are going to build solely on image why would you worry about the implications of what is required to turn the picture into reality?

The cumbersome structure to the Olympic swimming pool

When questioned about the pool an official from the Olympic Delivery Authority stated that the architects should not be criticised because they were asked to design a beautiful building; not a sustainable one! We need to get to the point where there is consensus that you cannot have one without the other. Beauty must be more than skin deep.

A lesson in structural efficiency - Frei Otto's Olympic pool, Munich.
 So when we decided that we would build the most sustainable Olympics ever, you would have thought that we could be at least as sustainable as Tesco, or for that matter Sainsbury's and ASDA - all of who have built large span structures with timber structures. So why will there be no timber framed building delivered for the Olympics? Is it because there is no interest in minimising embodied energy? Surely, with the budgets that are being spent on the venues this was the ideal opportunity to fund research and develop new solutions that could be employed for a wide range of large span structures. Even the Olympic Tower is to be made of steel, but then at least it is being funded by Tata Steel. What would a wooden tower sponsored by Finnforest have been like?

I suspect it would be more elegant, less gymnastic and far more relevant.

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