Conceptual rendering of the timber skyscraper located in the Barbican

Timber skyscraper plans considered by London mayor

London’s first timber skyscraper could become a reality in the near future after researchers presented the Mayor of London Boris Johnson with conceptual plans for an 80-storey, 300m-high wooden building integrated within the Barbican.

The proposals currently being developed would create over 1,000 new residential units in the building’s 93,000 square metres.

They would be composed of mixed-use tower and mid-rise terraces in central London in the Barbican complex.

The use of timber as a structural material in tall buildings is an area of emerging interest for its variety of potential benefits; the most obvious being that it is a renewable resource, unlike prevailing construction methods which use concrete and steel.

The research is also investigating other potential benefits, such as reduced costs and improved construction timescales, increased fire resistance and significant reduction in the overall weight of buildings.

The project is being worked on by researchers from Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture, who are collaborating with PLP Architecture and engineers Smith and Wallwork on the future development of tall timber buildings in central London.

“The Barbican was designed in the middle of the last century to bring residential living into the city of London – and it was successful. We’ve put our proposals on the Barbican as a way to imagine what the future of construction could look like in the 21st century,” said Dr Michael Ramage, director of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation.

“If London is going to survive it needs to increasingly densify. One way is taller buildings. We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers.

“The fundamental premise is that timber and other natural materials are vastly underused and we don’t give them nearly enough credit. Nearly every historic building, from King’s College Chapel to Westminster Hall, has made extensive use of timber.”

The research into tall timber buildings is also looking at creating new design potentials with timber, rather than simply copying existing construction methods that use steel and concrete.

At present, the world’s tallest timber building is a 14-storey apartment block in Bergen, Norway. The proposals presented to Johnson are significantly more ambitious: at nearly 300m high the building would be the second tallest in London after The Shard.

Dr Ramage said: “We’ve designed the architecture and engineering and demonstrated it will stand, but this is at a scale no one has attempted to build before. We are developing a new understanding of primary challenges in structure and construction. There is a lot of work ahead, but we are confident of meeting all the challenges before us.”

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