Branching Out: How Scottish Architects Embrace Timber

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Since 2012, as part of the annual RIAS Awards scheme, Forestry Commission Scotland and Wood for Good have combined to sponsor an award aimed at encouraging innovative and creative use of timber in new buildings in Scotland. We have recently published a book which collates winning projects, shortlisted entries and winners in the six RIAS chapters to offer a portrait of timber architecture in Scotland over the past five years. The publication is available free from our Material Considerations: A Library of Sustainable Building Materials at The Lighthouse. Karen Anderson, Chair of A&DS, introduces the book and the many projects featured in this blog:

The projects in this publication are diverse in scale and design approach but all are inspiring at a number of levels. They have been drawn together and celebrated through the Timber Awards, established in 2012 to recognise the best use of timber and consider its contribution to the development of new architecture in Scotland.

Five years on and in reviewing the winners and shortlisted projects for the award it is patent that Scotland’s best designers are fully exploiting the technical, aesthetic and tactile quality of timber, and that it allows them to do some of their best work and demonstrate their design and innovation skills.

The projects highlighted show just how versatile, characterful and, most importantly, sustainable timber is. It can be raw and robust, full of rural character as in the cladding of the projects by Rural Design, Icosis, A449 and Sean Douglas and Gavin Murray. It can be bespoke and perfect; creating interiors of cabinet-like precision as in Nord’s GFT project. It can be used innovatively, structurally, and is easily prefabricated and constructed on constrained sites. It is wonderful at small as well as large scale, lending its unique tactile character and its inherent warmth to interiors as crafted as Maggie’s Lanarkshire and the Arcadia Nursery. As LDN demonstrate at their Abbotsford building, timber can be used comprehensively from building structure to finishes and fittings, and when properly detailed and treated, it is inherently much more healthy than manmade materials.

All of the architects included in this publication have clearly enjoyed working with timber. They have recognised the pleasure of learning about, and the potential of exploiting, the myriad qualities of different timbers from homegrown larch, and Scottish hardwoods, to composite and engineered timber products. Timber not only provides a huge palette of architectural possibilities, but comes with the added joy of being fully renewable and recyclable.

The selection of a particular timber for a component of a building, and the detailing of it in construction, is important not only aesthetically and technically, but because it draws the designer into a particular relationship with the supplier of the timber and the craftsman or constructor who will work with the material. Again this can be at all scales and skill levels, indeed some architects set out with an express desire to make architecture from timber using unskilled hands, demonstrating just how forgiving, as well as how beautiful timber can be.

I would like to thank Forestry Commission Scotland and Wood for Good for their work and support for the awards as this is an important initiative that has become influential as well as celebratory. I hope this publication will inspire more designers to see just how much they can achieve architecturally using timber, and will highlight to them the potential to support the virtuous chain of using Scottish timber helping manufacturers and suppliers to diversify and develop. Finally I look forward to seeing the skilled and creative use of timber demonstrated here increase every year, and continue to flourish as, at the end of the day, it is my experience that above any other, a timber building is enjoyed and valued by its users – naturally.


Come along and pick up your free copy of the Best Use of Timber Awards: Celebrating Five Years of Scottish Timber Architecture.

(This article was posted in 2017)

Best Use of Timber Awards Exhibition

Best Use of Timber Awards: projects range from small to large and from domestic to commercial – showcasing the benefit of timber in new architecture

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