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It's all wood

Built using innovative construction techniques, a new high school in West London has become the largest timber building in the UK

Posted by Dave Higgitt | June 02, 2014 | Bricks & mortar

The new £20million William Perkin High School in Greenford, West London is officially the UK’s largest timber building. The four-storey complex containing some 3,800 cubic meters of timber will specialise in science and languages and offer 1,200 pupils aged 11-18 years facilities such as a 750-seat performance auditorium, sports hall and sunlit central atrium.

Ramboll, a leading engineering, design and consulting company, were invited by main contractor Kier to draw on their decade of experience in cross laminated timber (CLT) to produce the structural design for the buildings frame, panels and connection details. Designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley, the final result is a showcase for timber engineering due to its sheer size, exposed timber structure and bold architecture. The building uses a combination of CLT and Glulam timber to form the structure and architectural features. Hidden steel elements are then used where required to achieve the structural requirements.

Originally, the design had a concrete frame structure; however, CLT offered a number of programme benefits, such as the ability to commence fit-out on lower floors whilst the upper floor CLT frame was still being erected. In addition, CLT frame erection is less susceptible to winter weather working, which proved fruitful during the snow-storms of spring 2013, where CLT erection continued throughout the snow and more traditional in-situ frame sites would have struggled with the low temperatures.

Commenting on the shift to CLT, Gavin White, associate structural engineer at Ramboll UK, said: “While originally planned as a concrete frame building, the school’s design shifted to a timber superstructure due to the distinct advantages timber offers in both cost and time. Even with snow on the ground and delivery restrictions from the surrounding residential area, the majority of the CLT structure was assembled in only 19 weeks.”

The building footprint, which sits adjacent to the A40, is carefully positioned and orientated to minimise impact from solar gains, acoustics and air quality. Communal areas, such as the hall, sports hall and dining areas, are located to the south side. Classrooms are to the north and form a triangular space with large, central, north facing roof lights above the atrium spaces. The elevations are a simple brick-clad, with punched windows to the teaching spaces. The south facade contains vertical ‘metal strips’ within the cladding to provide articulation and features slightly rotated brick to emphasise the sense of movement.

Large areas of the timber structure are exposed as architectural features, the most striking of which include the main atrium space where the timber walls, a floating feature staircase and roof-lights are visible. The level of exposed timber required careful consideration of the details. Ramboll worked closely with the design team in fine tuning the timber details to ensure the highest level of finish was achieved. Future flexibility and adaptability were also integral to the design, which enables each of the classroom configurations to be reorganised. Solid timber load bearing walls are located where removal is least likely; however, the timber enables the formation of further openings to these walls if required.

William Perkin High School, the project clients, embraced the modern approach to the building proposed by the construction team, and even commissioned a CLT reception desk to coincide with the exposed structure. Associate headteacher Keir Smith commented: “All concerned are thrilled with the decision we made to convert to CLT.”


The project team

Client: William Perkin High School
Structural engineers: Ramboll
CLT specialist: KLH UK Ltd
Main contractor: Kier Construction
Architects: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

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