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Home » News » Safe and sustainable: Collaborative innovation in timber building design 
The built environment is a significant contributor to carbon emissions – responsible for over 40% of the world’s emissions. This means that building with low carbon, natural materials is pivotal in reducing our impact on the planet. New housing construction is a major contributor to these, so it is critical that we decarbonise wherever possible to assist the drive towards the UK achieving net-zero by 2050. 
With these goals in mind, Buro Happold joined a collaborative project entitled ‘New Model Building’ which was seed funded by Built by Nature and led by Waugh Thistleton Architects. Together, we created a demonstration project using mass timber – a key low carbon building material – to show how it can be used to construct medium-rise, multistorey residential buildings.  
We are confident that this will represent another significant step in the development of safe and durable timber buildings
The project team conceived a base scheme that our timber engineering specialists, including Jonathan Roynon, Technical Director, and Matthew Caldwell, Associate Structural Engineer, gave detailed structural engineering advice on.
We provided the outline design of the timber structure of the building, including appropriate structural layouts, such as where the walls and columns would be situated, whilst also addressing potential issues of building with timber such as moisture and durability. The team deliberately included a range of arrangements and design scenarios seen in real building designs. 
In addition to this, our sustainability team carried out the embodied carbon and whole life carbon assessments for the base scheme, along with comparing the New Model Building design with a conventional concrete design, to highlight the lowest carbon solutions and reduction in the use of materials, thus minimising the demands on the limited resources available. The findings demonstrated that the New Model Building – as a substitute for a traditionally constructed superstructure – can reduce the whole life carbon footprint by over 50%.
An important part of our design work on this project was to ensure that what we were developing was flexible. We created multiple scenarios and different ‘mock’ projects to ensure that the principles agreed were achieved and applicable to as many schemes as possible. To cover all bases, a breadth of experience and knowledge in timber construction was required to ensure what was developed had a broad application across the industry.  
The New Model Building project team have been working with the National House
Building Council (NHBC), a national warranty and insurance provider, who have
reviewed the New Model Building methodology
It was a truly collaborative effort to develop a design which achieved the structural, architectural – and most importantly – fire safety elements. The fire engineering requirements were taken as the primary guiding ‘golden thread’ through the design. This thread was followed through each of the design solutions as it wove its way around a selection of details and scenarios, typical to this building typology.  
The result is an example building scheme design that demonstrates a huge number of best practice principles and details, illustrated through the framework of a theoretical building. 
We hope all this work will encourage the construction industry to re-employ timber as a core construction material, in our drive to achieve net zero.
Jonathan Roynon, Technical Director, said: “This groundbreaking design and engineering work demonstrates just what’s possible with mass timber. Embracing the use of the material in medium rise residential buildings and beyond will be a critical part of our response to the climate emergency.
“With the team’s breadth of experience with mass timber, we’ve been able to develop a comprehensive methodology for delivering all parts of a project, including architectural designs, the structure, buildability plans and fire safety.
“The key element of our engineering work – the structural strategy – is flexible too, so it can be adopted by as many construction projects as possible. And we’ve made sure the strategy gives absolute clarity on how to build a structure that’s safe. Ultimately, we hope all this work will encourage the construction industry to re-employ timber as a core construction material, in our drive to achieve net zero.”
Matthew Caldwell, Associate Structural Engineer, added: “We were delighted to be a part of this important initiative. It is a rightly sensitive area of design and one that is rapidly developing. During the process, the essential design issues were taken right back to their fundamental basis and re-built according to scientific and best-practice principles.  
“By formulating it around the template of a realistic building, the theory was forced to be made real. In providing construction-style illustrative details, the team have not shied away from rolling up our sleeves and tackling the nitty gritty of how buildings really go together. We are confident that this will represent another key step in the development of safe and durable timber buildings.
“Working with Professor Jose Torero from UCL was an absolute privilege. It allowed us to really interrogate the fundamental principles of fire-safe design with timber and apply them. This method of intelligent performance-based design really is the key to the subject. Prescriptive guidance in itself is not able to capture the complexity and nuances that are present.
“The team at Waugh Thistleton Architects were instrumental in synthesising the enormous number of parameters and considerations into a coherent whole. Alastair Ogle, Associate at Waugh Thistleton, in particular showed incredible tenacity in carefully addressing each hurdle as it came up and ensuring that every solution we arrived at could be procured and built with all the products and methods that are already available in the market.” 
Read more in the report here.
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The Edit 2023: a year in review
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Buro Happold is an international, integrated consultancy of engineers, designers and advisers. For over 45 years, we have built an unrivalled reputation by delivering creative, value-led solutions for the benefit of people, places and planet.