Pioneering the Potential

Symposium and projects tour – hosted by Fourth Door Research

A full day introduction to natural building materials featuring a morning symposium and afternoon coach tour visiting projects, and demonstrating Sussex’s pioneering natural building materials role and potential. Symposium at Depot 09.00 to 12.00 followed by a projects tour 12.00 to 19:30 Booking through Lewes Depot.

Cost £50.00 for full day symposium and projects visit (including lunch and coach tour)  £20 student concession, and a limited number of free tickets for Lewes residents.

Thatch, but not as you know it. The Wadden Sea Visitor Centre, Jutland, Denmark by Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter – Photo Adam Mørk

Further in-depth information about the day, the speakers and the projects tour

Some context - a natural materials revolution

Construction is in the midst of a natural and bio-based building materials revolution. Driven by the materials competitive and proven application and its core role in the Circular Economy, alongside the need to drive down and meet decarbonisation targets, there is a ground swell of projects, research and momentum to this revolution. While most visible is the mainstreaming of engineered timber, and particularly the exponential growth of cross laminated timber (CLT), there are other plant, fibre and earth based, as well as less known natural materials, which are becoming source materials for an increasing part of the contemporary built landscape.

Natural and Bio-based materials, unlike Fossil Fuel based materials – concrete, steel and aluminium – are renewable; they can be grown, harvested and used again and again. By contrast, once exploited fossil fuels cannot be replaced. In addition, Fossil Fuel materials need much higher energy for extraction, processing and manufacturing, which mean significantly more intensive embodied energy and carbon footprints. Bio-based materials are a part of the Bio-Economy, which has been growing rapidly, and is becoming a cornerstone of some northern European countries’ economies, ie, Finland and Sweden. Regulation, including the newly announced aim of Britain becoming zero carbon by 2050, is helping spur spur further growth in Natural and Bio based buildings and building materials.

This is happening at a pan-European level with examples across the continent. In South East England - the most wooded part of England – is home to pioneering work such as at the Flimwell Woodland Enterprise Centre, and is so well placed to take these first steps several stages further.

The one-day Pioneering the Potential event has been organised to introduce and communicate this building materials revolution, opening a door on the prospective benefits of local materials in Sussex and the South East.

The Speakers (in alphabetic order)

Cany AshAsh Sakula, on their exemplar natural building materials housing and integrating green roof garden terraces at scale.

Ash Sakula Architects are a London practice with a long history of involvement with natural materials, participatory design processes, and in deepening green infrastructure in urban contexts, including urban farming, permaculture and vertical gardening. They are the architects of the exemplar Exhibition Mews terrace housing in Bordon, Hampshire, one of the original eco-town developments, applying Sweet Chestnut shingles cladding as part of its eco-material palette and approach. By contrast the studio’s Wickside Hackney Wick housing in East London, envisages a joined up green roof terrace across the site’s entire roofscape, a logical extension of single into multiple roof gardens, which creates the possibility of communal gardens and roof terraces across the development’s different housing blocks.

Exhibition Mews (left) and Bordon (right)
Wickside, East London

Ben Bosence - Barcombe’s Local Works Studio on taking a landscape-led approach to the design of buildings, places and materials - working with communities to uncover hidden resources and apply vernacular processes to modern problems.

Local Works Studio is a young, local office founded by husband and wife team of restoration builder specialist Ben Bosence and landscape architect Loretta Bosence. With experience in ceramics and specialist brick making, Ben Bosence has been working on developing building materials out of otherwise unused the industry waste, mixed with immediate on – and under - the ground earths, clays, limes and other natural materials, the potential of which are generally ignored. This landscape-led approach works with the grain of the land, the earth and the environment, rather than at odds with it.

Local Works Studio's tile, brick and chalkware experiments

David Saunders - from the Flimwell Woodland Enterprise Centre, pioneer of Sussex based timber building materials
Flimwell Woodland Enterprise Centre consists of three completed phases, with a new phase 4 in its early stages. Each phase has been associated with new buildings. Phase 1, the original Woodland Enterprise Centre is by FeildenCleggBradley Studios and highlighted Sweet Chestnut as a building material.

Sweet Chestnut is a predominant wood in the clayey Weald of the south-east, where there are 19, 000 hectares of trees. There is estimated to be an annual excess of timber of half a million tonnes a year, and each year, the core tree capital grows another 100,000 tonnes of potential timber. The Woodland Enterprise Centre used about 15 tonnes of Sweet Chestnut, each hectare of Sweet Chestnut growing about 5 tonnes of the wood, meaning around 3 hectares of chestnut could provide enough wood to grow a new Flimwell building every year.*

The Phase 2 buildings, four pairs of office buildings by the Architectural Ensemble, were completed between 2008 and 2016 and continued the work of the Phase 1 Chestnut building, with a series of materials experiments including the research into the capacity’s of locally sourced Douglas Fur, and the use of CLT as façade materials. The buildings were also designed to demonstrate competitive build costs to conventional rural office buildings. Flimwell WEC has continued into phases 3 and now 4, with a new research agenda in the process of beginning. Alongside Flimwell WEC, Flimwell Park, on the far side of the A22, is a separate development currently on site. It is likely to be used by the Bartlet School of Architecture, as  a study centre for their students, another sign of the increasing interest in timber construction and architecture.

*These figures are taken from Growing Flimwell’s Gridshell, originally published in Building for a Future magazine, August 2001, and also available on Fourth Door’s Unstructured web-magazine here.

Flimwell Woodland Enterprise Centre phase 1 (left) and 2 (right)

Anthony Thistleton - WaughThistleton Architects, WaughThistleton have been at the forefront of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) and engineered timber construction in London and Britain. The studio completed Murray Grove, North London in 2008, at the time the eight storey block the tallest timber building in the world, and Dalston Junction in 2016, the largest CLT building constructed. Composed of three separate blocks, of between six and ten storeys, comprising 12500 sq m residential and 3400 sq m commercial space. The build, according to the architects sequestered 3,576 tons of carbon and 976 tons of embodied CO2 delivering a net carbon footprint of -2,600 tons CO2, CLT represents a vast improvement on the net carbon footprint of an equivalent block with a concrete frame, estimated at +2,000 tons.

WaughThistleton are also at the forefront of offsite pre-fabrication and modular ‘Design for Manufacture’ building, which has been developing rapidly across the continent and the studio are working with a number of modular building manufacturers including Swan Housing Association and insurance giant Legal & General.

Both projects have help propel Hackney, N London into the international timber architecture debate, and the municipality has become known as the centre for urban CLT architecture and housing in the world. The studio recently completed 106 Lewes Road, Brighton, a five-storey student housing, and are working on numerous CLT, engineered timber projects in London and other parts of the country.

Dalston Works under render (left) and under construction (right)

Craig White – from Bristol’s White Design and co-creator of Modcell straw cassette wall panels, on the expanding the range of Bio-based material.

LILAC community Co-housing project in Bramley, Leeds is a thought provoking example of synergies between new lifestyles and new natural building materials. White Design’s ModCell timber and straw cassette system – developed in conjunction with Bath University the ModCell cassette’s use compressed waste straw in timber cassettes, to make highly insulated structural wall and roof panels. The cassette system has been used in over 100 projects including LILAC community. Net embodied energy per panel is 14kg2 CO2 or 3.5kg2 per square metre compared to 100 kg CO2 per square metre in conventional walls.

After further research, White Design have now developed new thin straw-based wall partition materials, evolving the design significantly. ModCell is a good example of a Bio-based material, using available waste straw capacity. According to ModCell the “UK farming produces 12 million tonnes of straw each year. With 6 million tonnes ploughed back into the soil” excess waste straw can be used in ModCell and other Bio based materials, amounting –the equivalent, they claim, of 600, 000 ModCell type homes a year, three times the current house building target.

The LILAC Co-Housing project Leeds by White-Design (left) and Modcell straw cassettes under construction (right)

The Projects tour

Lunch at Flimwell Woodland Enterprise Centre, will be followed by visits to the Tobias Green Community project by Nicolas Pople Architects, and to In-Wood Developments, leaders in the making of locally sourced timber-based construction materials.

Tobias Green is a crescent of five family houses completed in 2017 by Nicolas Pople Architects, which compliment a first phase of nine flats on the site with associated shared landscape, community facilities, biomass district heating, and Sweet Chestnut cladding. The project is close to East Grinstead.

In-Wood Developments have taken on the research into Sweet Chestnut at FWEC and pioneered introducing the material into the construction sector in the South East of England. They have expanded their manufacturing in White Smith, close to Lewes, to provide engineering capacity on a range of hardwood and softwood timbers such as oak, ash, Douglas fir, and larch. Along with Sweet Chestnut cladding and joinery, they worked with Lewes sustainable architects, BBM  Sustainable Design on the first glue-laminated sweet chestnut materials, which was used structurally in BBM’s Hastings Bridge Community Centre Project. Currently they are providing glulam Sweet Chestnut for a major Cambridge University project, Homerton College Dining Hall.

Homerton Hall Dining Hall render by FeildenFowles Architects (left) and BBM Sustainable Design’s glulam chestnut beams (right)