Timber Awards 2018: Bath Street Collective – Winner

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The Best Use of Timber Awards 2018 exhibition showcases the winner and shortlisted entries to the annual RIAS Awards schemeForestry Commission Scotland and Wood for Good combined to sponsor this award. The exhibition, curated by Architecture and Design Scotland, will run at The Lighthouse in Glasgow and runs from 14th January 2019 till the 5th April 2019.

The Award is aimed at encouraging innovative and creative use of timber in new buildings in Scotland. The exhibition features the winning and shortlisted projects, demonstrated through photography and models.

Award-winning architecture

The winning project was the Bath Street Collective, Portobello, Edinburgh. Bath Street Collective is a group of four families who came together to purchase the site and build a small tenement block containing a bespoke flat for each family. We spoke to John Kinsley, of John Kinsley Architects (JKA), about their award-winning project.

When Bath Street Collective started meeting together as a group, one of the key topics of conversation surrounded how ‘green’ they wanted the building to be. The collective wanted the project to be as sustainable as possible and they soon arrived at a brief that called for the building to be designed to Passivhaus equivalent standards of energy efficiency, with an all-electric strategy that would allow them to run free from fossil fuels.

How, when and why did the four families start the process?

We (JKA) put an advert on the local community website to gauge interest in the project and followed that up with a presentation in a local cafe one evening. From an initial 18-20 attendees there were eventually 4 families that committed to the project. The key motivations for the participants were twofold:- i) being able to save money compared to buying conventionally (because there is no developer involved there is no developer’s profit – the flats are bought at cost price) and ii) being able to design and build a property that is completely bespoke.

Why timber?

I had followed with interest the breakthrough use of Cross-lamited Timber (CLT) in projects down south and thought the material would lend itself to a residential project of tenemental scale. As a client group, we wanted to be as sustainable as possible and we were interested in using a timber structure in lieu of a concrete and steel frame. Although more expensive than a conventional steel frame on a straight capital cost comparison, the CLT saved around 8-10 weeks in programme. We were also able to avoid using considerable areas of plasterboard linings. Together these made CLT cost competitive.

What was your favourite part of the project process?

Seeing the CLT frame being constructed was the most exciting aspect of the project. The building went from being a slab on the ground to having a complete 4 storey CLT frame with staircase and balconies in place in just two weeks. We could get a sense of space and volume within the building and with door and window positions in place we were also able to identify views out. For the two weeks of the CLT build we had the road closed and a large crane positioned in the street. The children from the local primary school just at the back of the building would stop to watch every afternoon on their way home and our neighbours and other passers-by were intrigued to see this new type of frame be constructed so quickly.

What is your favourite aspect of the finished project?

We have had incredibly positive feedback from our neighbours and the local community. Whilst the building is uncompromisingly of its time we worked hard to ensure it sat happily in the street and I am really happy at how well it sits with its neighbours. Also, having lived in draughty old houses for years, it’s a joy to be snug and warm through the winter even in t-shirts and stockinged feet.

Is there any advice you could pass onto other community groups?

Lots! Celebrate the small victories, like getting the statutory permissions, buying the land or breaking ground. They will build up a store of positivity for when things inevitably get difficult at some point. You can’t do too much communication. Get a good team of professionals around you who you can trust.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re planning other similar projects. We are currently putting a group together for a site in Leith and are also looking at using the collective build concept as a model for retirement cohousing. Please get in touch with us if you’re interested.

The Best Use of Timber Awards 2018 Exhibition runs from January – March 2019 at The Lighthouse, Glasgow.

Image (detail) by John Reiach, Egoin

You can download our Case Study on Bath Street Collective here

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