Timber! Construction gets inventive: MultiPly, climate change, Cornwall, #bmcreativeplaces

Wood has potential to disrupt dominance of concrete and steel

Take a moment and look at those trees. Admit it, you feel better already. Calmer, less gnarly, more in tune with the universe. (If you want to hug a trunk to your heart, who are we to judge?)

‘Your neck of the woods’… ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’… ‘dead wood’. If those expressions are anything to go by, wood and trees have an important place in our psyches. Not to mention Little Red Riding Hood. (Poetry more your line of country? Read on…)

In this first blog in an occasional series, we take the digital equivalent of a walk in the woods. Admire the autumn colours, marvel at that squirrel’s acrobatics. En route we’ll also see a few examples of wood construction, getting creative with a material that can speed up the building process, connect us to the outdoors and even help counter climate change.

1. Cross-laminated timber in Sutton

A site visit – what’s not to like? While taking a tour of a future secondary school in Sutton, south London, the world of cross-laminated timber construction, or CLT, was introduced to me.

The technique uses layers of wood placed at right angles to each other, glued and hydraulically pressed. CLT “is threatening to upset the dominance of the big two structural materials: concrete and steel,” according to The B1M, a video channel for construction.

(Layering reminds me of a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Biscuit; possessor of many qualities, architectural sturdiness is not among them.)

Organised by Constructing Excellence Croydon Club, the visit also gave an insight into a project built to the Passivhaus standard of energy performance — maximises insulation, minimises a building’s energy costs.

Houses built to the Passivhaus standard using wood maximises insulation and minimises a building’s energy costs

Comfreak on Pixabay in a www.briandmcgee.com blog

Rising energy costs… that’s an issue affecting personal and commercial budgets from the UK to Ireland, Bangladesh to Argentina, judging by the headlines on newsnow.co.uk.

More than 65,000 buildings, of which there are about 300 in Britain, from housing to primary schools and a cathedral extension, have been built to Passivhaus norms, Passivhaus Trust says.

The six-form entry school, on the former site of Sutton Hospital, will include exposed wood – mostly spruce – throughout the building.

Taking a “fabric first” approach to construction is the cornerstone of Passivhaus, contractor Willmott Dixon explains.

That “results in the incredible insulation and air tightness” needed to stop heat leaking from windows, floors, walls and roof, the builder adds.

The finished, timber-framed product? I can’t wait to see it.

2. MultipPly wood construction in Kensington

Cross-laminated timber construction at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum

© Ed Reeve 2018 with the kind permission of Waugh Thistleton Architects

A few weeks later and CLT was in evidence 15 miles north, this time as an installation called MultiPly in the Sackler Courtyard at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.

The joint project between engineers & designer Arup, Waugh Thistleton Architects and the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) created a maze-like vertical structure, part of the London Design Festival.

“MultiPly confronts two of the current age’s biggest challenges – the pressing need for housing and the urgency to fight climate change” — AHEC website.

3. Using timber construction to store carbon

What’s climate change got to do with it? Fair question.

Carbon dioxide emissions are the main cause of the increase in global average temperature, which countries are trying to curb so as to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

areas of environmental protection

diema, Pixabay in a www.briandmcgee.com/blog

Wood used in timber constructions can play its part in the solution.

“Timber, when forested responsibly, can reduce emissions and store carbon,” professional services firm WSP says on its website.

(WSP contributed to the design of the Wood Innovation & Design Centre in British Columbia, Canada.)

You can still touch, see and clamber on MultiPly, made from sustainable American tulipwood.

Part of the structure has gone on to be displayed on Store Street, off London’s Tottenham Court Road, until Sunday 21 October.

The schlep across London and reassembly is prompted by the exhibition “Factory-made Housing: a solution for London?” put on by New London Architecture and running until Jan 2019.


And yes, poetry. Of those that caught my ear on PoemHunter.com, all three I quote here were  American.

Emily Dickinson wrote “A Drop Fell on the Apple Tree” in about 1863, including the line “And bathed them in the Glee.”

Or how about Ezra Pound? (A poet “whose use of unconventional poetic materials baffled even sympathetic readers,” according to the Poetry Foundation.)

“I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,” begins… “The Tree”. So far, so unbaffling. (The Cantos, epic and incomplete, are a different matter, by all accounts.)

Edna St. Vincent Millay, a poem in a name, includes the delicious (and deciduous) line, “The fluttering thoughts a leaf can think” in “The Leaf and The Tree”.

We digress. One of the many pleasures of a stroll…

4. Prickly, steam-bent wood construction

CLT it may not be, but wood is certainly popular elsewhere too.

Browse through the episode guide for Grand Designs (still going after almost two decades) and you can’t move for wood, whether in flame-retardant cladding, stud walls or the often “upcycled” furniture in the finished projects.

prickly chesnuts hanging from a tree

Peggychoucair on Pixabay in a www.briandmcgee.com/blog

Examples of those projects range from a cruck-framed house in Prickly Nut Wood, West Sussex to a state-of-the-art project in Bolton or, more than 300 miles south, a steam-bent creation by a furniture & lighting designer in Cornwall.

5. #bmcreativeplaces

A shameless plug of a creative project of my own? Yes indeed.

Wood makes a cameo appearance among the building materials in my latest set of postcards, #bmcreativeplaces, which give a nod to construction and architecture.

Not to mention the simple pleasures of getting out there for a stroll, walk, hike or yomp. All speeds, locations and time frames are available. Mood enhancing, health inducing, and a source of the thinking time we all need.

postcards featuring wood and timber

#bmcreativeplaces postcards  © Brian McGee 2018

The photos first appeared in my Instagram posts.

(Hearty thanks to graphic designer Stephen Shillito and Penge printer Press Gang for their help with this project. )

An earlier edition, #PortesdePenge, coincided with the blog “Postcards of #PortesdePenge: five ideas to combine print and online”.

I plan to sell the postcards at Anerley Town Hall on Sun 25 Nov, an event run by Crystal Palace Community Trust.

Any proceeds will go to Carers Lewisham, a charity supporting carers in that southeast London borough from the age of 8 upwards.

If you’d like to receive a set of #bmcreativeplaces postcards in the post — no charge, they’re also part of my marketing after all — please get in touch via my contact page.


From engineered wood to poetry, climate change to construction techniques via Instagram-induced creative marketing (if I say so myself); a meander it’s been for sure.

Enjoy your own visits out there amongst it. Marvel at that squirrel, hug a tree? The choice is yours.

(Many thanks to Jane Collier, Mark Currie, Stephen Shillito, Joe Towner and Xavier Wing Hing for their help with this blog.)

You may also be interested in:

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Lead image by jplenio on Pixabay; photo below by Free-Photos on Pixabay

*Please add a comment below, including any reaction to this blog.
I’ll be sure to add a reply. Many thanks.*
leaves spread across a wood construction


8 comments on “Timber! Construction gets inventive: MultiPly, climate change, Cornwall, #bmcreativeplaces

  1. Hilary on

    Thanks for the inspiration! My Grand Design would be to live in a 100% wooden house – preferably in the middle of some beech woods, with big glass windows…

  2. Lorraine Forrest-Turner on

    I love the comparison between cross-laminated timber and a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer. Is that with or without chocolate?

  3. Jenny Harris on

    Love the fact that a beautiful natural product like wood is being crafted in construction. Your writing is very gentle Brian, like a walk in the woods. Also wish I had a Tunnock’s caramel wafer right now!

    • Brian McGee on

      Thanks a lot for your comment Jenny. What a fine thing to say about my writing! Tunnock’s: how do they get that crunch and texture just so…? Answers on a postcard from Glasgow, if you please.


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