Annular Further – Britain – Timber and wood – architecture, engineering, materials science

The Savill Building gridshell, Savill Gardens – much of the timber research was done collaboratively with Bath University – Photo Oosum/Wikipedia CC-BY SA 3

Research in universities and architectural schools – part 2

Given the amount of timber architecture that has been happening in Britain over the last twenty years, it is striking how scarce construction related timber research is within Britain’s academic research universities.

As elsewhere in this UK section of Annular Further, information is divided by country. There are really two main centres in Britain for timber research: Bath University’s carefully worded BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials, and in Scotland, Edinburgh Napier University’s three timber related centres within the Institute of Sustainable Construction. There are other academic departments where relevant research is happening, and some of these are significant, although none at the scale of Bath or Napier. There are also departments with smaller scale research, often connected with a single person’s interest in the material.

The entries below cover the main research conducted across the UK. There are also references to centres and courses where research is undertaken, as well as others where no formal research takes place.


Testing timber within the Centre for Timber Engineering – Screengrabs from video – CTE/Napier University

Testing timber within the Centre for Timber Engineering II – Screengrab from video – CTE/Napier University

Testing timber within the Centre for Timber Engineering III – Screengrab from video – CTE/Napier University

Edinburgh Napier University

School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Edinburgh Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland, where the following research related research centres are located.

Centre for Wood Science and Technology (CWST)

Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structures (COCIS)

These are part of what was initially formed as the Centre for Timber Engineering in 2002, but there are also many other academics and researchers in the rest of the school who work on related topics, including timber design, building performance and environmental impact.

Edinburgh Napier University has worked with the forestry and construction industries across a spectrum of projects, which have advanced British timber in construction. 

Centre for Wood Science and Technology (CWST) – the focus of research is the physical and mechanical properties and performance of wood. The main aim of the centre is to ‘better understand how the management of forests, and the climate, influence the properties of the timber produced from them’. The centre is led by Dr Dan Ridley-Ellis, who provides an informative and informed blog from the main CWST page. He is also director of the CWST and is convenor of the timber standards committee. This CEN task group (TC124 WG2 TG1) evaluates safe grading of structural timber throughout Europe.

The Centre for Offsite Construction + Innovative Structure (COCIS) – initiated to help develop offsite, prefabrication and manufacture in Scotland, with direct funding from the Scottish Government. The centre’s research is led by Professor Robert Hairstans, and has contributed to the first Scottish CLT projects, and to the emergence of offsite manufacture and modular construction in the country.  

Ongoing and recent research projects across the centres:

SIRT – Strategic Integrated Research in Timber – works with industry and the public sector to increase knowledge of the properties of UK-grown timber and improve the value of the domestic forest resource. There is a focus on structural timber and other construction products, as the higher value market, although the research team are also engaged in other wood products such as fencing and pallets. Th research group is led by Dan Ridley-Ellis

InFutUReWood – focused on developing regrading methods and tools for recovered wood. Research is being led by Dan Ridley-Ellis and Marlene Kramer.

Innovative Engineered Bamboo-Timber Composite Materials – research into developing prestressed Bamboo-timber sandwich composite beams, led by Dr Johnson Zhang and Niaz Gharavi.

Ongoing and recent PhD’s presentations and papers:

The Quality Assurance Of Tulipwood Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) For “Multi-Ply” (2019) Hairstans, R., Calcagno, W., and Milne, M. Wood Design Focus, 29(2). To request a copy of the paper contact Professor Hairstans here.

Lesser-used UK-grown timber – (2019) Ridley-Ellis, D.TRADA Timber Industry Yearbook 2019, pp. 200-205. To request a copy of the paper contact Dr Ridley-Ellis here.

Potential of noble fir, Norway spruce, western red cedar and western hemlock grown for timber production in Great Britain (2018) PhD thesis by Gil-Moreno, D. Research into wood properties and commercial properties of four species n four British Isles growing regions.

Moisture in Sitka spruce trees and logs (2017) PhD thesis by Yerbury, M. Citation entry available here (currently embargoed as contains commercially valuable information) and blog report here.

Some thresholds for grading British grown spruce to optimised strength classes using longitudinal resonance (2018) Adams, S., Ridley-Ellis, D. and Lehneke, S. Conference proceedings World Timber Engineering Conference. Seoul, South Korea.

The effects of drying on the dimensional stability of spruce wood (2017) PhD thesis by Canavan, J. Blog entry here.   

Evaluation of the End Effect Impact on the Torsion Test for Determining the Shear Modulus of a Timber Beam through a Photogrammetry Approach (2017) Gharavi, N. H. and Xie, Y. International Journal of Mechanical, Aerospace, Industrial, Mechatronic and Manufacturing Engineering. 11(3)

The timber resource in Great Britain – more species for new challenges (2016) Gil-Moreno, D. and Ridley-Ellis, D. Innovation in Construction Materials Conference.

Understanding the compatibility of UK resource for dowel laminated timber construction, (2015)Hairstans, D., Bell, W. and Williamson, J.

The Extractive Content of Scottish Roundwood (2015) Adams, S.

The Case for Mass Customisation of Structural Timber Design (2015) Livingston, A. Contact the author for access to the paper.

Form finding methods for post formed timber gridshell structures (2013) D’Amico, B., Kermani, A. and Zhang, H. World Conference of Timber Engineering, Quebec, Canada.

Moisture conditions in external timber cladding: field trials and their design implications (2011)PhD thesis by Davies, I.

Making the Grade: A guide to appearance grading UK grown hardwood (2005) Davies, I. and Watts, G.

Staff, further details and contact info for researchers involved in timber here

MEARU Technology Strategy Board supported research project in the Highlands & Islands – Photo – MEARU

Macintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow

Macintosh School of Architecture

One of the UK’s pre-eminent architecture schools, the ‘Mac’ includes a network of five research centres, out of which the work of two; the Glasgow Urban Lab and Mackintosh Environmental Architectural Research Lab (MEARU) both contribute to timber related research.

Glasgow Urban Lab

Involved in applied research on core urban questions and issues, including housing, affordability, and sustainability. It was a partner in the recently completed Increasing Offsite housing construction in Scotland report (2020) with Construction Scotland, see here for final report pdf, which includes chapters on off-site timber construction.

Macintosh Environmental Architectural Research Unit (MEARU)

Established in 1986, MEARU is involved in technical research on related themes such as indoor air quality, energy efficiency, ventilation, and retrofitting, as well as slightly softer subjects like health and well-being, and post-occupancy evaluation. It is in this context, alongside moves to modern methods of construction and offsite prefabrication, that timber structures and related research come into play. An overview of MEARU’s work can be found here, and a pdf of one of their more recent research collaborations, with Strathclyde University and John Gilbert Architects: Ability of decentralised mechanical ventilation to act as ‘whole house’ ventilation systems in new build dwellings is here. The school’s Sustainability profile and links to some projects can be found here.

CSIC, proud owner of the UK’s first CLT production kit, the vacuum press – Photo – CSIC

Integra House Gokay Deveci research project – Photo Gokay Deveci/RGU

Glasgow Caledonian University

School of Computing, Engineering & the Built Environment (CEBE), Glasgow Caledonian University

While at the margins of its principal research themes, a small amount of wood related research takes place within pockets of the school. This includes work within the Research Centre for Built Environment and Asset Management (BEAM) and two of the school’s research groups, Nature Based Solutions and Eco Engineering and Sustainable Materials and Structures.

Research Centre for Built Environment and Asset Management (BEAM) – opened in 2017, BEAM’s research agenda aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and is home to BEAM’s professional fire risk engineering expertise and consultancy, which encompasses timber construction and structures.

Research groups:Sustainable Materials and Structures – the research is geared towards industrial materials, particularly concrete, although there is some timber related work specifically in the structures section. Including Fire Analysis and Design of Tall Timber Buildings (ongoing) PhD being completed by GCU post-grad Xuan Zhao.

Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) – this R&D and innovation hub is seen as one of the other principal centres for the technical development and application of timber technologies in the country. With a research facility in Hamilton, Glasgow CSIC has been involved in a series of projects aiming to advance timber construction and use in Scotland, including the first onstream CLT vacuum press manufacturing technology in Britain (procured in 2017, technical paper pdf here), and the first production of CLT and NLT (nailed laminated timber) as part of a consortium project beginning in late 2020.

Integra House prefabrication process – Photo Gokay Deveci/RGU

Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen

Scott Sutherland School of Architecture and Built Environment

Although timber related research does not formally feature at the most northerly architecture school in the British Isles, there are two members within the staff team whose work is focused on timber in architecture and construction; Professor Gokay Deveci and Theodore Dounas. Professor Deveci’s research is applied led and has focused on affordable housing systems using regional materials, primarily timber, with the latest research being ‘Integra House’. Theodore Dounas has focused on the interface of robotics and digital technology with CLT and engineered timber.

Integra House – a single roof and wall building truss system fully integrating biomass insulation panels and wraparound external larch cladding (2016-2019). Deveci worked with partner CSIC and on the Integra research demonstration house. A pdf can be found here and a brief video overview here.

Design optimisation and prototyping for affordable rural housing: digitisation, automation and robotics options for the Integra House– a second phase of the research was completed in 2020.

Further – See Gokay Deveci’s earlier research work in Annular Archive feature

Robotic Fabrication of a CLT joint – partnered with CSIC and Scottish Glulam manufacturer, Glulam Solutions, the CSIC’s Robotic Challenge developed a proof-of-concept prototype CLT joint, with simulated precision testing with the aim of commercial offsite manufacturing. Project led by Theodoros Dounas. The aim has been to scale up to a whole building prototype, although this has not yet been initiated.

Glasgow Trade Hall: the transversal section of the roof structure at Glasgow Trades Hall (left) as designed by
R. Adam, and (right) as built – Illustrations – Glasgow Trade Hall and Tweededale House.

The Nepal Project Live – Photo Nepal Project/University of Strathclyde

Render image from the VR/AR timber frame related research

Strathclyde University

The Department of Architecture

Comprising of several research clusters and units, and with research aims clustered around two core themes; Sustainability and the Built Environment, and Urbanism and Global Cities, timber and wood related research is apparent across the majority of the sections within the department, generally as cross-cutting and secondary themes to the principal research activity. Out of the school’s six research clusters, the Architectural Design and Conservation, Design and Sustainability, and Digital Construction research groups feature a modest spectrum of timber and wood related research.

Architectural Design & Conservation – the historic dimension means conservation research in the Scottish context involves some timber and wood conservation related research found across parts of the core research agenda including Architectural Conservation Theory, Architecture, Assessment and Conservation of 17th and 18th century architecture in Scotland, and Environmental Design of New Buildings.

Research papers and book chapters:

The Roof Structure of George Heriot’s Hospital Chapel and Roof Design in Scotland During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (2020) Serafini, A. and González-Longo, C. The Architecture of Scotland 1660-1750, edited by Humm, L., Lowry, J. and MacKechnie, A. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Building Skills for Conserving Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Scottish Built Heritage: the Initial Assessment of Timber Roof Structures (2019) Doctoral thesis by Serafini, A.

A Database for the Assessment and Analysis of Historic Timber Roof Structures (2017) Serafini, A., Riggio, M. and Gonzalez-Longo, C. International Wood Products Journal Vol 8, no 1.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century timber roof structures in Scotland: design, pathologies and conservation (2016) Serafini, A. and González-Longo, C.  10th International Conference on Structural Analysis of Historical Constructions. KU Leuven University Halls, Leuven, Belgium.

The Design and Construction Techniques of eighteenth-century Timber Roofs in Scotland: Glasgow Trades Hall and Tweeddale House in Edinburgh (2015) Serafini, A. and González-Longo, C. 5th International Congress on Construction History, Chicago.

Design & Sustainability  – the Design and Sustainability cluster engages in projects where wood is a subsidiary element to the research although it is not a central theme. This is most pronounced in the clusters Architecture and Ecology research work, which considers the environmental and sociological dimension of nature, people and place, and specifically the impact of nature on children within the school building environment.

Projects and research:

Architecture and Ecology – research into nature’s influence and impact on children in the school environment context is primarily led by Dr David Grierson. A list of Dr Grierson’s research publications can be found here.

The Nepal Project: Designing and Constructing Earthquake-Resilient Schools in Nepal – this cross-departmental live research project involved both the Design & Sustainability cluster and students from Sustainable Engineering MSc – see further below – which resulted in rebuilding a Nepalese school damaged in the 2015 earthquake. Much of the research was related to low energy and appropriate technology systems with both biomass heating and use of local materials as a main feature of the project. The principal investigator of the project was Dr Grierson, see above.

Designing Out Construction Waste, Zero Waste Scotland – not directly connected to timber, although this research repeatedly draws on timber related examples for effective zero waste design, building strategies, and approaches.

Digital Construction Research Group (DiCRG) – primarily engaged with current digital tech developments in the sector, e.g., BIM 2, Big Data, the Internet of Things, and Intelligent Buildings, there are a couple of instances where timber engineering and design can be found folding into this agenda, such as the research below.Framework for Improving Business and Technical Operations within Timber Frame Self-Build Housing Sector by Applying Integrated VR/AR and BIM Technologies (2019) Potseluyko A, L. and Pour Rahimian, F.

Map of the Island of Eigg’s Biomass prospects, part of the Sustainable Heating of Isle of Eigg project (see below)
Image – project website.

Sustainable Engineering, School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Sustainable Engineering: Renewable Energy Systems & the Environment MSC

The Nepal Project – see architecture section – this group project was part of the annual Sustainable Engineering: Renewable Energy Systems and the Environment MSc course (found within, at first sight, rather improbably in the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering). Each year a series of group projects take place, primarily across Scotland.

Other live group projects:

While focused on renewable energy tech, projects have also from to time strayed into the overlap between forestry and biomass based energy related themes, for instance these two completed projects: Industrial Energy Autonomy: the Role of Biomass and the Sustainable Heating of the Isle of Eigg (both 2015-16).


The DRUw designed Environmental Centre, part of the Tŷ Unnos initiative – Photo – DRUw

Home Grown Housing – Photos – Woodknowledge Wales

The Ebbw Vale Passivhaus – Photo – DRUw

Offcuts used for box and ladder frames components as part of the manufacturing process – Image – Coed Cymru

The Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University (WSA)

The main centre for architectural research and training in Wales is the Welsh School of Architecture within Cardiff University. Other research hubs can be found at the University of Swansea, (primarily engineering and materials science) and at the Centre for Alternative Technology, which also hosts a post-graduate MArch and other related post-graduate courses within CAT’s Graduate School of the Environment. Undergraduate architectural courses are also taught at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Cardiff Metropolitan University and Glyndwr University Wrexham

One of the leading British architectural schools, the school is part of Cardiff University’s Engineering. It is divided into research groups and centres, with several engaged in timber related research.

Research Centres – two of the school’s three research units, the Architectural Science Group and the Design and Practice Research Group include work with a focus on timber.

Research Groups – several of the research groups are likewise involved in timber related research within broader remits.

The Low Carbon Research Institute (LCRI)

Set up in 2009, the LCRI brings together a network of Welsh academic departments and schools to focus on low carbon technologies and research, including in Low Carbon Built Environment, where timber has been one strand of low carbon investigation, with a particular focus on native Welsh timber. Research has been in partnership and based within the Welsh School of Architecture (WSA), with other partners BRE and WoodKnowledgeWales see below. A case study overview can be found here.

Design Research Unit Wales (DRUw)

Engaged in live projects, the unit has been involved in different research projects aiming to develop timber building systems using native Welsh timber.

Tŷ Unnos

The principal relevant DRUw project has been Ty Unnos (‘a house in one night’), a collaboration with Coed Cymru, (the native woods development organisation – see below)  the University and other partners. The project, beginning in 2007 has developed prototype prefabrication systems using Sitka spruce and other native timber for affordable housing, other building typologies, and the Ty Unnos Box Beam system. Various pilot demonstration and one-off projects, to date in all 30 projects have been realised. This includes the Ebbw Vale Passivhaus design which won the first Innova Wood award in 2011 using native sweet chestnut. The principal DRUw researcher has been Dr Steve Coombs, who completed his PhD (link below) on the Ty Unnos projects in 2015.

Reports and research:

The development of the building envelope with Welsh-grown timber: a study through prototyping (2015) PhD thesis, Coombs, S. Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff

Affordable building system from locally grown softwoods Tŷ Unnos (house in a night) prototypes: system and componentry, Smithsonian Pavilion, Classroom & ‘passiv’ longhouse (2012) – this DRUw report continued and expanded on the development of research and prototyping of variants of the Ty Unnos system, including Passivhaus prototypes.

Tŷ Unnos Sitka Spruce Construction System (2009) – DRUw report on the development of a version of the Jørn Utzon Expansiva system using Sitka spruce, across designs and typologies with the realisation of pilot projects.

Tŷ Unnos – Sitka Spruce Housing (2007) – an initial feasibility report by the DRUw, Coed Cymru and the school of the Environment and Natural Resources, University of Wales, Bangor.

A sizeable repository of reports, research and a considerable amount of other documenting material is available on the Tŷ Unnos research page here.

Tŷ Unnos has continued to develop as a core part of the Coed Cymru’s work, involving collaborative research in collaboration with Kenton Jones joinery. See here and for a sizeable resources page here. Developing the Adaptability of Tŷ Unnos report by Davies-Sutton Architects (also cited below) provides an overview of subsequent development.

Further Tŷ Unnos reports – subsequent reports not directly involving the DRUw:

Developing the Adaptability of Tŷ Unnos (2015) – report by Davies-Sutton Architects. 

Welsh Softwoods in Construction report (2014) – WoodKnowledge Wales.

Tyfu Tŷ Unnos – The opportunity for home grown timber in the construction of affordable housing in Wales (2013) – report by Roberts, H.

Non institutional related research

Woodknowledge Wales (WKW) produces a regular report and is directly engaged in research relating to native timber in Wales. Their work is policy and business oriented and does not undergo the academic peer review process. The organisation also acts as a ‘timber in construction’ advocate and lobbyist group.

The most recent research are reports connected to the Home Grown Homes Project/Project Cartrefi Bren Lliol (2020).

The Home Grown Homes Project:  Zero Carbon Homes – Zero Carbon Timber Solutions for Wales report (2021).

The Home Grown Homes Project – the Role of our own Conifer Forests for Building a Sustainable Wales report, Dainis Dauksta (2020).

Serious About Green? Building a Welsh wood economy through co-ordination report – by Foundational Economy Research for WKW (2020). Capturing Carbon: Investing in Woodlands – An Options Analysis for Welsh Housing Associations (2021).


The BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials’ BaleHaus@Bath, the prototype building as part of Modcell
cassette construction research which also deployed glulam timber at the centre of its structural system
Photos – University of Bath

University of Bath

The BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials

As aforementioned, timber and wood research are primarily concentrated around a few research hubs within Bath University, primarily under the aegis of the BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials. There are, however, other smaller centres of timber research, including the Natural Materials and Structures Group within Cambridge Architecture School and Hooke Park, where the Architectural Association’s rural hub is involved in a new research venture.

The Centre is led by Professor Pete Walker and includes several timber specialists. The University of Bath has historically been involved in timber related research, including light weight shell structures, connected to Frei Otto and Buro Happold’s work at Hooke Park, the Weald and Downland gridshell and the Savill Gardens gridshell. Until 2014, timber engineering research was led by Richard Harris, ex-head of Buro Happold’s wood engineering group.

The Centre offers both an MSc in Civil Engineering: Innovative Structural Materials, and post-graduate degrees combining Architecture and Engineering.

Department of Architecture & Engineering, and Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture (CASA)

In addition to the BRE Centre, there are two other hubs for timber research at Bath University; the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, and the Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture (CASA). While neither focus on natural materials at quite the level of the BRE Centre, each includes a steady stream of timber and related wood construction research.

Up until about midway through the last decade, there was ongoing research into timber shell structure engineering, and specifically gridshell forms.

This research focus was originally significantly due to the involvement of Professor Edmund Happold, as the first chair of Architecture and Engineering at Bath University in the 1980’s. It introduced a generation of engineers to the university after Happold founded the engineering firm, Buro Happold in Bath. Research on the gridshells at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum (2000) and Savill Garden (2006), plus others, spawned a wave of research maintained by Happold engineers. Those engaged in the research included Professors Michael Dickson, Chris Williams, and Richard Harris, the latter becoming head of timber research at Bath. All three moved on in the mid 2010s; Dickson and Williams retiring, and Williams to a post at Chalmers University, Gothenberg, Sweden (although he remains cited as a research associate with CASA). 


Whole Timber Construction – A State of the Art Review (2019) Bukauskas, A. Mayencourt, P., Shepherd, P., Sharma, B., Mueller, C., Walker, P., and Bregula, J. Construction and Building Materials, 213, pp. 748-769.

Heritage retrofit and cultural empathy; a discussion of challenges regarding the energy performance of historic UK timber-framed dwellings (2019) Whitman, C., Prizeman, O., Walker, P. and Gwilliam, J. International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation.

Wood waste as an alternative thermal insulation for buildings (2018) Cetiner, I. and Shea, A. Energy and Buildings, 168.

Form-Fitting Strategies for Diversity-Tolerant Design (2017) Bukauskas, A. Shepherd, P. Walker, P. Sharma, B. and Bregula, J. Presented at the IASS Annual Symposium. Hamburg, Germany.

Diffusion of a systemic innovation: A longitudinal case study of a Swedish multi-storey timber housebuilding system (2017) Lindgren, J. and Emmitt, S. Construction Innovation: Information, Process, Management.

Dowelled structural connections in laminated bamboo and timber (2016) Sharma, B., Reynolds, T., Harries, K. and Ramage, M. Composites Part B: Engineering, 90.

Dynamic properties of tall timber structures under wind-induced vibration (2016) Feldmann, A., Huang, H., Chang, W., Harris, R., Dietsch, P., Gräfe, M. and Hein, C. World Conference on Timber Engineering. Vienna.

Enhance mechanical properties of timber, engineered wood products and timber structures. Special Issue based upon work from COST Action FP1004, (2016) Harris, R. and van de Kuilen, J. European Journal of Wood and Wood Products.

Investigation of thread configuration of self-tapping screws as reinforcement for dowel-type connection (2016) Zhang, C. Chang, W. and Harris, R. World Conference on Timber Engineering. Vienna.

Shaking Table Test of the Taiwanese Traditional Dieh-Dou Timber Frame (2016) Yeo, S. Hsu, M. Komatsu, K. Chung, Y. and Chang, W. International Journal of Architectural Heritage, 10(5).

Structural development and testing of a prototype using timber and straw bales (2015) Maskell, D. Gross, C. Thomson, A., Beadle, K. Walker, P. and Mander, T. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Structures and Buildings, 168(SB1), pp. 67-75.

Racking performance of timber studwork and hemp-lime walling (2015) Gross, C. and Walker, P. Construction and Building Materials, 66(15), pp. 429-435.

Repair and reinforcement of timber colums and shear walls – a review (2015) Chang, W. Construction and Building Materials, 97, pp. 14-24.

Timber Gridshell connectors – from immediate research paper below

Timber Gridshells: Design Methods and their application to a temporary pavilion (2014) Naicu, D., Harris, R. and Williams, C. World Conference on Timber Engineering. Quebec.

The TRADA Pavilion – A Timber Plate Funicular Shell (2013) Harding, J. Lewis, H. Proceedings of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures Symposium. Wroclaw, Poland.

Geometry and Performance of Timber Gridshells, (2012) Naicu, D. MPhil thesis.

From Naicu

A study of Douglas-fir anatomical and mechanical properties and their interactions (2012) Bawcombe, J. PhD thesis.

Supertall Timber Project Provast in Holland – further details here
(and visit the Dutch section) – Image Supertall Timber Project

Natural Materials and Structures Group, Cambridge Architecture School, Cambridge

Natural Materials and Structures group (NMSG)

One of Cambridge University architecture department’s five research centres. The group is led by Dr Michael Ramage. Relevant related research includes Polymer Modified Timber, along with the earlier Natural Materials Innovation research – see below.

NMSG are also currently running two Bio-based research projects: a new Natural Material Innovation research project focused on plant based structural materials, and the second, on Structural Bamboo Products.

Polymer Modified Timber

An interdisciplinary research project, engaging chemists, material scientists, engineers, and architects focused on the molecular scale of wood to the scale of structural elements and buildings. The project investigates ecologically sound impregnation approaches to develop modified structural timber, optimising and improving softwoods.

Natural Materials Innovation (NMI)

Part of the Natural Materials and Structures Group, NMI has been involved in three core research themes. The Supertall Timber Project is now concluded.

Natural Material Innovation for Sustainable Living

Materials and chemical research into the properties of cellulose and hemicellulose, and specifically xylan, which contributes to improved engineered timber (and other natural materials) with the objective of developing enhanced natural building materials durability, fire resistance, and thermal properties.

The Supertall Timber Project

This high-profile research developed a series of speculative hybrid concrete, steel and CLT towers aimed at demonstrating the technical feasibility of tall timber standing at over one hundred meters. Conducted with PLP Architecture, and ex-Ramboll engineers, Cambridge based Smith and Wallwork, there have been two highly publicised if  speculative towers completed as research exercises; Oakwood Tower, a 100 m high tower requiring 65,000 m³ of engineered timber support, and Provast in the Netherlands, a 130 m high, 35 storey proposal designed around a diagrid form.

For further see Unstructured Extra’s CLT@Scale section.


Bio-based research project focused on using flax fibres as a core building material integrating a ‘whole life’ circular approach.

Ness Botanical Building constructed from Dowel Laminated Mass Timber – Photo – University of Liverpool/A-FTB

Dowellam beams being tested at Liverpool
Image – University of Liverpool/A-FTB

University of Liverpool

School of Engineering

Based in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. The school is engaged in a variety of research connected to engineered timber in relation to composite materials. The school recently concluded a major project as lead partners on Towards Adhesive Free Timber Structures, a four-year Interreg research project into dowel laminated timber and adhesive free timber structures. The university recently opened its Materials Innovation Factory.

Adhesive-Free Timber Buildings

A multi-partner programme with Interreg. The research project, led by Dr Zhongwei Guan, sought to develop glue free timber materials, with the aim of reducing both the toxic properties and resulting footprints. Development and testing of compressed and densified hardwood dowels was core to the investigation, alongside the development and modelling of timber elements. Prototype dowel-laminated timber materials and buildings were among the main research outcomes, including a research lab in the University of Liverpool’s Ness Botanic Gardens. National University of Ireland, Galway, Université de Lorraine, and the Technische Universität Dresden, were academic partners, where several further prototype buildings and structures were completed.

Research publications and papers:

Advanced numerical investigation on adhesive free timber structures, (2020) Bouhala, L. Fiorelli, D. Makrad, M. Belouettar, S. Sotayo, S. Bradley, A. and Guan Z.  Composite Structures, 246.

Review of state of the art of dowel laminated timber members and densified wood materials as sustainable engineered wood products for construction and building applications (2020) Guan, Z., Sotayo, A. Bradley, D. Bather, M. Sareh, P. et al. Developments in the Built Environment, 1.

Finite Element Modelling and Testing of Timber Laminated Beams fastened with Compressed wood Dowels 2018, Sotayo, A., Au, S. and Guan, Z. In Proceedings of the WCTE 2018 – World Conference on Timber Engineering, Seoul, Rep. of Korea, 2018

Further research publications from the AFTB programme here.

An overview document of the results can be found here, a shorter brochure on the project here, along with technical papers on the properties of compressed wood and densified wood.

Other research:

Fracture Behaviour of the Cross Laminated Timber – ongoing PhD related research led by professors Eann Paterson and Wei-Chung Wang of the National Tsing Hua University, China, as part of the dual PhD programme.

Modelling of Glulam beams pre-stressed by compressed wood, (2017) Anshari, B., Guan, Z., and Wang, Q. Composite Structures, 165.

Structural Behaviour of Glue Laminated Beams reinforced by Compressed Wood (2012) PhD thesis by Anshari, B.

Hooke Park, from above – Photo – Hooke Park/AA

The Big Shed, the first building to come out of the AA Hooke Park relaunch
Photo – Hooke Park/AA

Hooke Park, Beauminster, Dorset

Part of London’s Architectural Association school situated in 350 hectares of Dorset woodlands, from which it sources the majority of its timber. It re-opened in 2011, a new start for Hooke Park, after its earlier incarnation closed as part of the Parnham School of Furniture.

The private school runs one-year post-graduate MA and MSc courses, with a focus on hybrid low-tech, hands on craft, and carpentry skills, combined with a hi-tech digital tech approach. Students complete live experimental projects annually, which once completed provide new experimental buildings and structures across the Hooke Park. Formal peer reviewed research papers appear to be limited.


Designing with Tree Form, Mollica Z. Self M. in Rethinking Wood: Future Dimensions of Timber Assembly (2019), ed Hudert M, Pfeiffer S. Birkhauser.

Robotic Fabrication of Non-Standard Material, (2016) Mollica Z. Self, M. Devadass, P. Dailami, F. Posthuman Futures, Data, Designers and Cognitive Machines, Acadia 2016 Conference, University of Michigan, USA

Applications for Timber in its Natural Form (2016) Self M. in Advancing Wood Architecture: A Computational Appproach, ed Menges A. Schwinn T. and Krieg O. D. Taylor & Francis, London

Tree Fork Truss: Geometric Strategies for Exploiting Inherent Material Form, Mollica Z. Self M. in Advances in Architectural Geometryed Adriaenssens S. Gramazio F. Kohler M. Menges A. and Pauly M. (2016) v/d/f publishing, ETH Zurich

A You-Tube presentation by Zac Mollica can be found here, currently Warden at Hooke Park, and a lecturer on the AA’s Design & Make post-grad course

Flimwell Park Workshop Building – Photo – Steve Johnson

Design for Manufacture (DfM)– Here East, University College London

Primarily at present a MArch course,convened as part of the Bartlett Architectural School. The school is a post-graduate hi-tech research and post-graduate hub within UCL’s Stratford Olympics Here East campus, which opened in 2018. The DfM lab is equipped with robotics and other tech equipment and the centre is currently building up its research capacity.

An outline of DfM early projects can be found here and a programme description here.

Flimwell Park – this new centre in East Sussex will be used by DfM and other Bartlett units, departments researching timber and other related fields once open.

Illustration – CATT/NMITE

Centre for Advanced Timber Technology (CATT), NMITE, University of Hereford

Currently in planning, is ‘envisaged as a world-class centre to showcase the practical uses of timber as a construction material, production methodology and design, supporting local, national and international timber-based construction industries’ and is part of the New Model In Technology and Engineering Centre (NMITE). It is unclear at this stage what its applied research programme will comprise, although it was recently announced that Professor Robert Hairstans is joining to head up the centre, on a two-year secondment from Edinburgh Napier University’s COCIS – see COCIS/Napier University Centre for Structural Timber above. Part of Hereford Enterprise Zone, along with CATT, the NMITE will also feature Centres focused on the robotics and the automotive industry, and agriculturally related Bio-tech.