Innovative London architect speaks in Seattle about the power of CLT buildings


Architect Andrew Waugh is a true pioneer in the use of cross-laminated timber in large buildings. His London firm, Waugh Thistleton, built the first CLT building in the UK, and when its Murray Grove building opened in 2009, it was the largest modern wood building in the world. Waugh has been featured in the New York Times, Financial Times and Popular Science, among many others.

Waugh is so revered in the CLT building industry that he was one of the judges last year of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize (developments in Portland and New York were the winners).

So it was quite a pleasure to listen to Waugh speak this week at the University of Washington, thanks to the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the Washington Department of Commerce, Forterra and the Washington Forest Protection Association.

When Waugh’s firm first started building with CLT in 2003, it was very difficult to convince clients to use wood as the primary building material, Waugh said. The firm’s first CLT project was very small, just 450 square feet, and Waugh was only able to build Murray Grove six years later because London had a shortage of steel and concete from construction of various projects for the 2012 London Olympics. It was only then that his client was willing to build with wood, even with the much lower cost, shorter construction schedule and ease of building.

Murray Grove, when it opened, was a smashing success. People lined up on the street to buy one of the 29 apartments, and they were all sold in just over an hour, Waugh said. Even today, very few people have moved out of the units, and one resident said she’s never turned on her heat in the apartment because the wood is so energy efficient on its own.

Murray Grove was a rebuke to the complacency of many developers, who often talk about building to the lowest common denominator — projects that are “sufficiently mundane.” Murray Grove “is not sufficiently mundane and it sold in an hour, 15 minutes,” Waugh said.

Now Waugh Thistleton has 20 CLT projects in development, including this 9-story office building in London. Attitudes are quickly changing. In the past with clients, “we’d had to have the ‘timber chat,'” Waugh said. “Now thankfully people are coming to us because they want timber buildings.”

Wood buildings have an extraordinary impact on the people who live and work in them, Waugh said. Businesses can save money not just on much lower construction costs, but by cutting back on their turnover. Employees are less likely to want to change jobs because they’re happy to work surrounded by timber instead of concrete or steel. “You give them somewhere lovely to work in, they’ll be more likely to stay,” Waugh said.

CLT has the potential to take on many forms of architecture, but for Waugh’s firm, the future is in CLT residential buildings because of the extreme lack of housing in London, which is not particularly dense by urban standards. “We need to densify our city and do that in an environmentally effective way.”

To watch video of Waugh’s full talk at University of Washington, go here