Chetwoods has designed one of the largest timber buildings currently being constructed in the UK for Rhenus Logistics at Baytree Logistics Properties’ Nuneaton development. Totalling close to one million square feet, the development includes a three-storey 30,000sqft office headquarters element with a structure and substructure constructed entirely from CLT and Glulam.

As an architectural practice we are renowned for our 30-year track record in innovation in the design and delivery of award-winning sustainable industrial and logistics buildings, and we are now pioneering the scaled-up use of timber in this sector, with this project setting an innovative precedent towards further reducing the sector’s carbon emissions.

Environmental benefits of using timber
Timber has been one of the most popular construction materials since the earliest human settlements. Timber absorbs and stores carbon dioxide – up to one tonne per cubic metre – and can displace carbon intensive alternatives. Timber is being more widely used across the whole construction sector, with our offices in Germany reporting increased interest in their markets too, Germany having built a wealth of expertise in the production and use of mass timber products. When considering structural options for the project, models showed that timber was lower carbon than steel by 300 Tonnes of CO2e, without considering the inherent biogenic benefits.

Advocates within the whole project team
Both Baytree Logistics Properties and future occupier Rhenus Logistics understood the benefits of utilising a timber frame for the office building at Nuneaton from the outset of the project. The innovative use of timber can often be value engineered out. In this instance, however, the carbon savings, sustainability and wellbeing benefits were fully appreciated and the material was procured. Laurie Chetwood’s concept sketch below explored initial ideas at an early design workshop with Chetwoods Studio, Thrive and Works teams.

Challenges of designing with timber
When using timber at the scale required for such a building, the design and construction processes both present challenges, needing to take account of specific constraints. The detailing of the interface of the light and heavy weight structures of superstructure frame and beams with the building’s substructure is very different from the design of a typical steel frame. Although they did not change the aesthetics of the timber in comparison to the untreated panels, where required the protective layers added to timber to protect from fire and UV were clearly presented to the client to reassure with regard to common misconceptions about the safety of timber.

The office building consists of a Glued-Laminated Timber (Glulam) structural frame supported by Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) walls, floors and roof. The value delivered by procuring timber is reflected in the estimate that there is around 1,000 metric tons of carbon sequestered in the timber frame – enough embodied carbon to construct around 28 new homes in the UK, power a 20w lightbulb for 21,853 years, drive around the world approximately 208 times or to the moon and back more than 10 times.

Occupant benefits of using timber
In addition to the environmental value of using timber, occupants will benefit from the aesthetic of the timber which does not require additional materials to cover it and contributes to a natural, biophilic internal environment, which has been proven to help reduce stress and increase productivity. The project also utilises BIM technologies enabling delivery of a Digital Twin for facilities management going forward to manage energy in use.

This unit will be occupied by Rhenus Logistics. The unit forms part of a state-of-the-art community friendly campus offering a wide range of warehousing and distribution services. As such they will benefit from the latest in robotics, AI and warehouse management systems to provide flexible solutions and control of the supply chain. In addition, the development will feature the very latest digital technology and upon completion will be certified BREEAM Outstanding.

The future of Materials in the Built Environment
“We hope this approach to embracing timber in design will be adopted across the wider industry in the years to come, setting a precedent as a small part of the solution to reducing our sector’s carbon emissions. The building’s users will also benefit from the aesthetic of the timber, contributing to a natural, biophilic internal environment, which has been proven to help reduce stress and increase productivity.” Andrew Hall, Chetwoods Director

Chetwoods is involved in ongoing research into the use of sustainable materials in our industry. We are working on projects across different sectors that repurpose and reuse existing structures and materials.

Chetwoods Thrive team has developed a Material Matters Workshop for developers, contractors, and fellow architects that provides a crash course in embodied carbon, an introduction to materials health, and an interactive session with our materials library to investigate how different materials rank against each other.

We are also collaborating with and advising a world-leading interdisciplinary team from the Universities of Cambridge and Birmingham that has recently secured £1.3m in funding to research the reuse of structural steel in construction.

“Throughout our work we aim for whole design team engagement to reduce emissions from the design, construction and use of buildings. As part of this we need to consider all the materials we use to help move the built environment sector towards achieving its Net Zero targets.” Philippa Birch-Wood Head of Chetwoods Thrive

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