On the sofa with

Anthony Thistleton

March 12, 2018
Director, Waugh Thistelton Architects

Ahead of the Wood Awards launch reception on the 13th of March we caught up with one of the evening’s speakers, Anthony Thistleton, director of Waugh Thistleton Architects.

You and Andrew Waugh (a Wood Awards buildings judge) set up Waugh Thistleton over 21 years ago. How did the two of you meet and were you both as passionate about timber construction back then as you are now? 

Andrew and I met at college when we were completing our part 2 studies. We found common ground in our interest in how buildings go together rather than simply how they look. For us, construction has always been integral to design. It is this approach that led is us to the emerging technology of cross-laminated timber in the early 2000s. Since we first used CLT in 2003 and experienced the improvements to construction and to the end use, we have been passionate advocates and have proselytised about engineered timber ever since.

Dalston Lane. Image Credits: Daniel Shearing

In a nutshell, why is building with timber a good idea? 

There are so many great reasons to build in timber – at the last count I think we got to 21. Broadly speaking, using CLT allows us to construct lighter, better quality buildings, more quickly, with reduced foundations and fewer deliveries to site. It leads to safer, cleaner, quieter sites, with a reduced number of workers and consequently less nuisance to neighbours in a dense urban site.

The material itself contributes to thermal and acoustic insulation and has verifiable health and well-being benefits. The timber structure locks carbon within its fabric, an intrinsically sustainable and modern approach to construction that produces high quality, high performance buildings.

And finally, when you expose the structural material, it looks great and lifts the soul.

Dalston Lane. Image Credits: Daniel Shearing

We have been hearing a lot about cross-laminated timber (CLT) recently (especially with the largest CLT building in the world designed by you now complete). But Waugh Thistleton produced the UK’s first CLT building back in 2004. How has the building sector developed during this time regarding timber construction and where do you still see the greatest need for change?

The UK has led the world in embracing this technology with over 500 CLT structures completed to date. This has all been done with almost no support at any level of government.

Climate change is the biggest challenge we have to deal with today and yet there is no legislation that takes the environmental cost of construction into account, only the operational impact. For most buildings the embodied carbon for the structure is the principal carbon impact of a building for the first few decades of its life.

If we have any hope of reaching the ambitious targets in the Paris Climate Accord and the UK Climate Change Act we need to measure and reduce the carbon cost of construction.

Stadthaus, Murray Grove by Waugh Thistleton. The world’s tallest modern timber residential building.  Image credits: Will Pryce

What is the latest most interesting technology or method that you are excited about in timber construction? 

An exciting aspect of engineered timber coming into the mainstream is the wealth of research and development with new products and methods coming into the market regularly. One of our key considerations is how to take the off-site revolution further and to devise a method of using CLT to build negative carbon modular homes further improving quality, speed and cost.

Murray Grove. Image credits: Will Pryce

What are you currently busy working on that you can tell us about?

We are currently working on modular CLT prototypes with two separate developers and will be delivering our first mid-rise scheme later this year.

What do you say to people who worry about fire and timber buildings? 

All building materials are vulnerable to fire, even concrete and steel. The difference with timber is that it burns at a completely predictable rate and this can be used to precisely calculate the progression of charring and ensure that the structural stability of the building is not compromised. Furthermore, the char actually forms a protective layer that prevents the timber behind degrading so this can be part of the fire protection strategy.