dRMM is an early adopter of engineered timber, having built the first publicly funded CLT building in the UK, and the first all timber house in central London since the 1666 Great Fire.
Two of the dRMM’s Stirling Prize projects use cross-laminated timber (CLT); Trafalgar Place and Hastings Pier, and this year the practice begins construction on London’s tallest CLT building, a mixed-use development in East Ham named The Brickyard. The Observer’s architecture critic, Rowan Moore speaks to dRMM founding director Alex de Rijke about the future of timber architecture:
Although CLT gets the most attention, it is one of several products that go under the name of “engineered timber”, which have in common the use of new technology to make a natural material perform like an industrial one. One British early adopter, Alex de Rijke of dRMM architects, who won the 2017 Stirling prize with the company’s part-CLT rebuilding of Hastings Pier, called engineered timber the “new concrete”. He means that it’s a material where the surface you see is also the stuff that holds a building up, which is the stuff that keeps out the weather too. “There can be something very visceral about that,” De Rijke says. “We all like stone cathedrals for that reason.”
The environmental benefits aside, the practical arguments are still strong – both Waugh and De Rijke have hard-headed commercial clients who use engineered timber because its speed of construction saves them money. For all these compelling reasons, the world is expected to use a million cubic metres of CLT this year, compared with 2,000 cubic metres in 2003. Its existence is hardly news in the architectural world, but it is now at the point where it’s going mainstream.
De Rijke believes there’s a limit to how high a timber structure can sensibly go, and that there are other architectural problems to solve in building tall. And he thinks that, in all the preoccupation with the technical wonders of timber, it’s possible to lose sight of the fact that “it is a much better material to live with than any other”. It has, he says, “built-in texture, a sense of scale, grain, scent. It affects the air quality about it. You could shut your eyes and still notice the difference.”
Read the full article on The Observer website.
Early dRMM projects are on show at the exhibition Timber Rising: Vertical Visions for the Cities of Tomorrow at Roca London Gallery, London SW6, 9 Feb-19 May; admission free.
Photograph: dRMM’s 2009 proposal for a timber arena (unbuilt) for the London Olympics.