Each of Timber Design Initiatives Ltd’s core services is grounded in the philosophy ‘think global, act local’, an approach it has embraced in order to translate the company’s awareness of advances in the world of timber research, design and construction into more local applications in the various European markets it works within. The aim always is to find opportunity for timber processors and product manufacturers to adapt emerging scientific and technological advances to their domestic construction market requirements and, where possible, to locally source the specific raw materials required. Complementing this ambition is the company’s goal of providing Europe-wide professional education and technical advice services to architects and engineers with a view to inspiring them to fully engage with new timber technologies in their design thinking.
With its focus on innovation, the sharing of internationally-generated ideas and knowledge through a structured approach to Knowledge Transfer is fundamental to the work and success of Timber Design Initiatives Ltd. Through its ongoing programme of conferences, lectures, presentations, seminars and workshops for its target audience of architects and engineers, the company brings together key players in the manufacturing and construction sectors to share their experience of the processes and timescales involved and the obstacles to be overcome in taking first ideas through to market reality. The methodology employed aims to draw out new thoughts and possible solutions to contemporary challenges, whether in the housing or other sectors, and to filter these ideas into applied research and development projects attractive to both industry funders and related government/EU support programmes.
The international environment in which we work
The first two decades of the 21st century have so far witnessed remarkable and significant changes in the construction industry - changes that have impacted internationally - and none more so than in the way new and advanced timber technologies have altered perceptions of how, and what, can be built with engineered timber and other timber-based products and systems. Engineering and scientific developments have also combined to reposition the Earth’s forest resources within the wider drive to sustainably manage the planet’s raw materials. In this context wood, as the primary renewable building material available to us, has huge potential to play a leading role in the construction industry’s engagement in the growing drive to implement Circular Economy principles across all industrial sectors.
Continuing process and technological change is necessary throughout the construction industry, however, to meet ever increasing demands for new, energy-efficient and healthy buildings. At present, the huge need for new and affordable housing in response to demographic change (the gravitation of populations from countryside to cities, people living longer, revisions to conventional definitions of what constitutes ‘the nuclear family’, etc.) is a universal phenomenon, but one that is unmatched by the global construction and property sectors’ current abilities to deliver at the scale required. New housing models and systems are therefore needed that can be built at speed to far higher standards and to better quality than even before and which provide well-designed, healthy and safe environments in which people can live and work. The same is true of the associated buildings these new communities require: education and healthcare facilities, as well as cultural, leisure, retail and other amenities. The modern workplace too, continues to evolve in the slipstream of ongoing, rapid advances in digital technologies, with increased levels of attention being given to spatial and environmental design approaches that enhance employee satisfaction and wellbeing.
The need for change
Much of the change required in these areas can be - and is being - achieved through the use of modern timber technologies: witness the progress over the past ten years in the design of ever-taller residential buildings formed from solid, laminated timber products and systems, with housing projects entirely constructed from these rising from a pioneering nine storeys in 2008 to proposals today in many cities around the world for timber-based apartment complexes upwards of 30 storeys high. (Image 1) Traditional concerns over the fire safety of timber buildings are rapidly being addressed - and confounded - by sophisticated fire engineering research, as are structural design questions about the durability and stability of these lighter-weight constructions. Commercial clients too, are recognising the health and welfare benefits of workplaces built from timber products
Modern timber technologies
The greenhouse gas implications inherent in rainforest depletion have focused attention on the illegal harvesting of tropical hardwoods and the consequent need to find replacements for the timber products derived from them. The term ‘wood modification’ may be unfamiliar to many, but the bio-based processes involved in the chemical and thermal transformation of less durable species to the kind of highly durable timber products now being used, for example, to line canals and which, being non-toxic can, at the end of their service life, be re-used for other purposes.
The change in the way we think about - and use - timber-based products and systems is the result of intensive research and development carried out over the past 30 years by specialist research centres, university departments and manufacturing companies in different parts of the world, either individually or in collaboration: work that continues today to advance the benefits and possibilities of timber design and construction. The consequent need to disseminate the outputs of this R&D work more widely to the design and construction sectors as well as providing sound technical grounding to them in the use of emergent engineered and modified timber products and systems is the raison d’être of Timber Design Initiatives Ltd. The company has thus focused the delivery of its goals around three major areas of activity: