Scotland’s Architectural History #
Scotland’s rich history of architectural innovation remains one of the most sadly overlooked aspects of its wide-spanning cultural impact. Although Scottish contributions to engineering, finance, media and food and drink remain prominent, the term ‘Scottish architecture’ itself is unlikely to have great familiarity even in those dedicated to the art.
However, from the Bronze Age brochs and crannogs to the later Scots Baronial and Art Nouveau styles, there has always remained a characteristic uniqueness to the ages of Scottish construction, and we can see this even in the unlikeliest areas.
A new age of environmentally conscious construction has come upon us, with such concerns as environmental sustainability and energy efficiency being at the forefront of the new architect’s mind. As such, let’s look back into Scotland’s long and fertile history of building wooden structures, and forwards, to how these historic examples are fueling contemporary sustainable innovation in the modern industry.
Sustainable Architecture and Its Impact on the Environment #
Sustainable architecture, as a design ethos, is one that aims to reduce the long-term negative impact of buildings on the environment. This approach considers the building’s entire lifecycle and presence in the ecosystem, from the initial extraction of the raw materials to the eventual breakdown and dissolution of those materials into the landscape.
The work of modern sustainable architects such as Pat Borer has seen a reevaluation of the entire process of construction. It’s no longer enough to simply plant a grove of trees for each house you build or involve some degree of renewable material (such as timber cladding) in the design; you have to work with sustainable methods and materials in mind right from the start.
Currently, the Scottish construction industry is responsible for 45% of the country’s overall emissions, but the introduction of sustainable methods can help by systematically reducing output at every stage of the process.
The History of Timber Buildings in Scotland #
Scotland’s history of timber-based buildings dates back millennia, to the early crannogs that dot the lochs and shorelines of Scotland and Ireland, to the numerous timber-frame houses that populated the centre of Scottish cities prior to urban renewal.
Even where later architectural styles moved away from timber and firmly onto stone, they retained within that style vestiges of the prior structure of the timber frames. Evidence of this can be seen in the use of corbels in a way that referenced the jettying of timber floors.
Illustrations that survive of Scottish cities in the 19th century show a significant number of buildings with timber cladding, even long after the Scottish Enlightenment had encouraged an age of architectural renewal, and stone-built buildings were seen as a sign of the nation’s industrial progress. A number of these wooden buildings even share Dutch characteristics, which illustrates Scotland’s historic links to the continent through such means as trade and immigration.
Advantages of Timber Buildings #
As a construction material, timber has a lot of advantages people might not associate with or expect from it, especially when it’s chosen carefully and suitably for the project in mind.
Timber’s insulation properties, whether in the frame or as cladding, are excellent, which means your property doesn’t need to consume as much energy for heating.
Good-quality timber can blend into the landscape or stand apart from it, and the right choice of coating or natural wood can really help distinguish your home or building.
Timber is incredibly easy to source renewably and ethically, and trace back to the root, so you know you’re getting a high-quality and trustworthy product. The carbon footprint of timber products is also not only lower than their steel or concrete counterparts, but can, in some ways, be neutral, as wood traps carbon inside it, lowering the overall amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
At the same time, the process of acquiring and preparing wood is much easier to make carbon-neutral and environmentally friendly, as it requires far fewer toxic chemicals, and the heavy machinery required (bandsaws, forklifts, etc.) are easy to convert to run electrically (and thus via renewables).
Timber is also a highly versatile material that can be used in a wide range of designs, from traditional timber-framing and modern pre-fabs to Scandinavian minimalist designs and log cabins.
Examples of Sustainable Timber Buildings in Scotland #
There are many modern examples of sustainable timber buildings in Scotland that emphasise the quality, versatility, and beauty of the material. One such example is the Scottish Forestry Commission headquarters in Inverness, which combines a distinct and homely series of roofing arches with a modern, warm design by HRI Munro Architecture, mixing traditional log columns with sleek modern glass-front panels.
Another might be the Tight na Croit house in Gorstan, which uses modern stained timber cladding to stylishly replicate the classic Highland style of whitewashed stone cottages in a sleek, modern, energy-efficient fashion. There also exist numerous companies that specialize in constructing prefab homes to similar standards, or stand-alone cabins of equal quality.
One that we at Logie Timber have been directly involved in is the new zip tower at G2 Adventure. This project serves as a fine example of how timber can often be deployed in developments that wouldn’t usually be expected to be a suitable fit. While many such towers in adventure areas might be steel-framed or plastic, we worked alongside our client to create a quality product that not only was environmentally friendly and sustainable, but that also met all the required tolerances and matched the beautiful woodland around it in a way that was both harmonious and distinctive.
Challenges of Using Timber in Architecture in Scotland #
The primary challenge when using timber as a main architectural frame can be found, sadly, in its most obvious issue – fire safety. While numerous steps can be made to reduce the risk of a fire spreading in a timber-framed home, such as fire-retardant treatments, insulated and prepared cladding, and minimising sources of flame, it will always be a risk for any homeowner.
Another issue is durability. If the wood chosen for the timber frame is poorly selected for the given environment, such as if it lacks the necessary durability against fungal or insect infection or damp, the frame itself could begin to rot or cave in, and pose a serious structural issue. This is not a factor that other frames, or stone constructions, have to contend with.
And we also can’t ignore the factor of cost. Due to subsidisation and economies of scale, concrete and steel remain cheaper and easier materials for large-scale construction companies to use.
However, these challenges, like many others, are far from insurmountable, and one thing that can help is time. Not only are new treatments and technologies emerging every year to aid in issues of durability and fire-resistance, but more and more architectural firms and construction companies are beginning to see the benefits timber can provide their projects.
Timber is growing in popularity as a construction material every year, and as the Scottish Government sets firm goals in relation to reducing carbon emissions, more companies will seek to reduce their emissions in the coming years. Adopting timber more readily for suitable projects is an easily achievable way to help that reduction.
The Importance of Redefining Sustainability in Scottish Architecture #
It’s fair to say that Scotland’s long history of using timber in construction, and its sizeable forests filled with high-quality wood, make it a prime candidate for a widespread adoption of sustainable architecture, especially when it comes to timber-framed buildings.
Timber, as one of the few construction materials that’s both renewable and practical, has a number of distinct advantages over the industry standard building materials.
While timber cladding has always been a popular addition to modern concrete and steel buildings, more and more firms are beginning to see the potential appeal in switching to a wood-centric design standard, for its aesthetic, practical, and environmental benefits.
For anyone who’s interested in the ideals of sustainable architecture and wants to learn more about timber-fronted construction, feel free to get in touch! Our team of experts will be more than happy to help you design and build a sustainable, long-lasting, environmentally friendly timber building that works for the goals you have in mind.