Dense Timber Blocks

2020

MSc dissertation by D+M alumni Seb Birch proposes a mass timber alternative using irregular crown wood.

Text from Seb:

What could a new kind of timber product, designed to make better use of available resources and to enable more sustainable forest ecologies look like?

This research aims to provoke alternative approaches to using UK timber resources by demonstrating uses for low value products in construction. It focusses on the possible use of unusual form crown timbers, not currently of value to the standard milling process and common in British woodlands. It explores a novel, dense packing approach for assembling this small-section, irregular raw material: Dense-packed Timber Blocks (DTBs) are made using a range of modern fabrication techniques with beech and ash crown material. The system is intended as a reproducible product but seeks to challenge the industrial conventions of mainstream timber products (like CLT or Glulam) which oversimplify wood.

By exploiting fabrication techniques which can work with the natural variation of timber, the project questions whether the industrialised preference for homogenised timber plantations can be challenged and a reengagement with the pre-industrial, zero-waste view of trees encouraged. This could relieve pressure on forest management to make way for more resilience-oriented practices and encourage the cultivation of more diverse forests.

The project can be read as a series of crafted experiments enabled through proximity to crown timbers in the Hooke Park woodland. The proposition of a product and production sequence was discovered, tested and assessed digitally using the tools available. The work culminates with a final prototype composed of 17 blocks which demonstrates the DTB’s application as a whole system. The results are by no means exhaustive but aim to engage with the constructional and spatial implications of the system as an initial exploration of its possibilities.