Andrew Waugh: We research, we design, we draw and we build in timber

29/07/2020 Emmilie Hansen


Andrew Waugh is the founding director of Waugh Thistleton Architects, a world leading architecture practice dedicated to designing buildings that acknowledge their impact on the environment. Andrew Waugh was e.g. responsible for Murray Grove, a first mover project within tall timber construction, and Bushey Cemetery which was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2018.

At Build in Wood, you can hear Andrew Waugh talk about CLT, modular housing, prefabrication and a fast changing world. You will get an expert’s point of view on the qualities of different methods, and how the timber revolution will change the face of architecture.

In this post, you can read an interview with Andrew Waugh.

 

What is your perspective on wood in construction and its role for the green transition?

It is absolutely key for the transition that we need to make. As a species and as humanity we are facing the most important 10 years we have ever faced in terms of our climate and our planet. At the same time, we have a massive shift in our demographics towards the city and towards a greater urbanization. So we need to build homes in the cities, and those homes need to be built in a way which doesn’t increase climate change.

From my perspective personally, architecture is an optimistic profession. You are thinking about a future that can be better, that’s why you build buildings. Faced with climate change, and the impact on our daily life and on our children and grandchildren can feel oppressive, but realizing that we can be part of the solution is really an exciting proposition.

Now in the UK, about 40 % of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction, refurbishment and the management of buildings. We need to find alternative methods of construction to traditional concrete and steel, and the only real viable material is engineered timber.

 

How do you and Waugh Thistleton Architects work with wood?

Our fascination with timber started about 20 years ago. We built our first CLT building in 2003 and the fascination has been increasing ever since. From the very start, we have been thinking about building in timber and really understood not only the sustainable benefits but also the design benefits and the architectural opportunity that the material presented.

As soon as we started to understand the implications of what it was, we were doing, we got increasingly passionate about it. And now, the office designs everything to be in timber. We research, we design, we draw, and we build in timber.

Occasionally, some of our clients decide not to build in timber, but then we always try to find other ways to reduce the carbon burden of that building. In practice, we have 25 live projects in the office at the moment. Two of them are not timber, but they were both designed in timber, so we are a busy little practice and fascinated by wood.

In the past for our clients, the sustainability credentials were good for marketing but often beyond that they didn’t really care. Now I think there is a paradigm shift taking place in terms of our culture towards on understanding of our responsibilities for our children and our grandchildren.

 

From your perspective, what are the opportunities of building with wood?

Building with timber is not only a low carbon building material, it is a low carbon construction process, because there is a lot of prefabrication, it is very light, so it takes a reduced amount of transportation, reduced foundations, it is easy to work, it is easy to cut, it is easy to fix, it is easy to connect, it is a great insulator and it is healthy to live in.

By using timber are we not only reducing the amount of carbon that we produce in manufacturing the material, we are also storing carbon within the building. In this way, the building becomes a carbon store. Timber is also a replenishable resource, and every tree we cut down, we plant three or four more. This is the only building material, where we are not taking up the Earth’s resources, and this really needs to be the focus of our attention, both the architects and contractors, government, politics etc.

 

From your perspective, why don’t we use more wood in construction in Denmark? What are the challenges?

 I think there are probably a few challenges in Denmark. You don’t have many trees and therefore not much of a timber industry and that would probably be your number one challenge, I would imagine one we share in the UK.

You also have some very talented architects and engineering practices that have a lot of influence internationally. But those practices have unfortunately not demonstrated a real recognition in terms of their responsibility to the environment. When we see big, international practices turning around and recognizing the importance of the impact on the environment, then we will probably see that influence pay out in the rest of Danish construction.

Therefore, we need to encourage those people to realize what the implications of their work are, and we need to excite them about the opportunities to build a new architecture in timber. A new architecture heralds a new age. And that is a great opportunity for architects, engineers and developers to really take on the contemporary challenge.

 

How about legislation, do you also see that as a challenge?

Legislation is absolutely imperative, and governments need to lead us and the industry. We need a massive transition in the next 10 years and there is no way that can’t be really inspired, framed, encouraged, paid for by our governments. If they don’t invest in the future now, it is going to bite them very quickly. It has to be ‘carrot and stick’.

 

How do you think the industry for wooden constructions will develop within the next 5-10 years?

I think it has to develop massively. Every year, the amount of engineering timber that has been produced across the world has been doubled and it just needs to keep on increasing. The next 5-10 years are absolutely key for humanity and engineered timber is what we need to focus on.

As an industry, we also need to realize that architecture is construction. Architects tend to exist outside of construction or see themselves as a ‘Jedi Knight character’, who isn’t directly involved in construction. But we really need to rediscover the notion and practice of the master builder.

Construction uses most of the world’s material, it takes up its land fill, it causes the most pollution, and therefore architecture needs to take this on board the next 5-10 years. It is an opportunity for timber construction to form a new architecture.

 

What will you be talking about at Build in Wood 2020, and will there be any specific key take-aways?

I suppose passion is the main thing I want to give as key take-away. It can’t be about designing a building and then thinking about doing it in timber afterwards. There needs to be a passion for change and a passion for understanding our responsibility. The industry needs to spread the word and tell everybody they know that they need to change their practice and that they need to get behind the new future for architecture.

That’s what I would hope for the participants and maybe learn a little bit about timber too.

 

Do you want to hear more from Andrew Waugh?

Join us at Build in Wood at Docken on 25-26 August and hear Andrew Waugh’s presentation about CLT, modular housing, prefabrication and a fast changing world.

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