Research Output
Sustainable Communities Premanufactured from Wood
  The UK produces high quantities of softwood timber through forestry plantations concentrated in Scotland, however this resource is currently under-used and its full potential for application in construction is still to be realized. However, the focus of the UK construction industry currently lies on other challenges: stagnation in productivity, increasingly stringent policies for energy-efficiency and concerns over the high quantities of construction waste, are leading the industry towards modernisation. Offsite timber systems, where a part of the construction process is transferred to a factory environment, offer opportunities to mitigate the inhomogeneous mixture of challenges facing the industry. The increased factory production can be correlated to increased opportunities for control of the production process, such as wood materials flow tracking and waste minimisation.

However, advanced offsite timber systems are not part of the conventional curriculum amongst designers and specifiers, the future leaders who will be directing clients towards the selection of one construction system over another. This leaves a skills gaps among architects, architectural technologists and engineers on advanced methods of construction and can result in a lack of appreciation for the Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) principles essential for successful design and specification of wood products in offsite construction. Moreover, because offsite timber systems are regarded as innovative on the UK market, their application is limited by perceptions of increased financial risks for construction projects. This perception can only be altered by built environment leaders who have a holistic technical understanding of offsite wood products and their value-adding manufacturing processes.

With this in mind the Built Environment Exchange (beX) launched in late 2017 . Through the programme top engineering and architectural technology students from Edinburgh Napier University were teamed up with architecture students from Harvard University (Graduate School of Design) and collectively participated in a week of face-to-face interactions with offsite industry leaders across Scotland. During this interactive learning week the students had the unique opportunity to participate in offsite timber factory visits with demonstrations of automated wood system production equipment and Virtual Reality (VR) technology; debate the application of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) in an architect-lead self-build residential project; experience at first-hand timber harvesting and processing methods for off-grid small scale timber housing; and much more.

The knowledge gained through the tactile interactive activities is generally quicker solidified than purely theoretical presentations and the participating high-calibre students had opportunities to directly and creatively apply their newly gained offsite wood products knowledge in design challenges. A charrette-style workshop was hosted and critiqued by industry experts at Falkland Estate: on the application of low-tech wood offsite systems in historic farm building restoration and hut building with minimum impact to the local forest environment. Following on from the learning week, the participating architecture students will then use their knowledge to create building designs which demonstrate holistic, efficient & creative use of wood in the built environment.

Overwhelmingly, the participants commented on increased understanding of timber use in advanced construction methods and the design considerations required to create buildings which use wood products holistically and efficiently. The anticipation is that these sparks of interest and increased understanding will be developed through application in students’ on-going design work. Thus a strong foundation will be formed, for disruption of the built environment towards increased application of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies and comprehensive specification of wood products in construction.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    26 June 2018

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    TA Engineering (General). Civil engineering (General)

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    674 Lumber processing, wood products & cork

  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Duncheva, M., Calcagno, C., & Hairstans, R. (2018, June). Sustainable Communities Premanufactured from Wood. Poster presented at Timber 2018


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