Partner at PLP Architecture Kevin Flanagan tells The Resident how their intriguing proposed timber tower will fit seamlessly into Barbican’s Brutalist landscape
Words: Rachel Mantock
The protected Barbican building is built on the site of the Roman military Garrison and the ancient walls of the former City of London, to the north. With its listed status, the Barbican will forever serve as a commanding example of historic Brutalist architecture with a dystopian air about it. It’s a place that Londoners and tourists flock to, in awe of the dominating, colossal concrete forms that fill the skyline.
In collaboration with Cambridge University, PLP Architecture has dedicated a wealth of time, passion and resources into researching the use of timber as a main building material in high rise construction. They conducted a widespread study to test the public’s response towards residential timber construction and received an overwhelmingly positive response internationally. Timber is being heralded by experts as a sustainable alternative to traditional building materials, reducing carbon emissions and lengthy construction times.
Earlier this year, this research paid off in a big way and they developed a never-before seen project proposal for the Barbican housing estate. They revealed a 300-metre, 80-storey wooden skyscraper concept named The Oakwood Timber Tower, the first of its kind in London, and are now in talks with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan about making it a real existing structure.
While PLP are staying tight-lipped about just how close they are to making this fascinating idea a reality, Flanagan keeps our hopes high by reminding us that the timber building concept is a craze that is sweeping not only this city, but the globe, and with every new project that is successfully completed, a positive knock on effect is felt in capitals around the world.
When asked about just how sustainable this building would be, the lead architect of the project, Kevin Flanagan, says: ‘Preparing timber and using it to build has a very low impact on the environment and promotes healthy woodland management. Cross laminated timber modular panels can often be built in a third of the time, with far fewer hands and significantly less noise than concrete elements can.’
He also points out the benefits of using materials that weigh less than typical concrete and steel combinations, stating: ‘A timber building by nature is very light, requiring less deep foundations. This means that they are ideal for sites that sit on top of underground infrastructure such as tunnels that are very common in big cities.’
Australia has recently modified legislation to encourage large timber structures, while Europe is generally ahead of the game with wooden building works of art popping up everywhere, such as OPPEAA’s Finlandia award winning Puukuokka apartment building and CF Moller’s proposed ‘woodscraper’ for Stockholm.
Behavioural science suggests that being surrounded by natural materials such as timber helps people to relax
‘Behavioural science suggests that being surrounded by a natural material such as timber helps people to relax and improves their sense of wellbeing,’ explains Flanagan. ‘Is that not what we want to give the next generation? It brings about a sense of children playing in trees under a protective canopy of dappled light. We intrinsically have an affinity with nature and wood.’
For the experimental architect, Barbican, just as its name suggests is ‘a bulwark against urban living, the ultimate expression of the famed optimism of the 1954 Festival of Britain, a new concept of urban living. It was a social experiment with concrete, along with a little Thunderbirds Futurist fun thrown in as a winter garden’.
It’s the area’s strong association with urban social responsibility that lead PLP to choose it as the site for their proposed design. Flanagan says they wanted to reinvent the Barbican and to give it ‘a renewed sense of purpose’, as well as tapping into the notion of residential co-living. He says: ‘We want to create a shared co-living space for 700 residents within the tower. This is the future for the next generation of young intrepid aspiring innovators that will be the driving force behind the economy post Brexit.’
It’s only a matter of time before the wooden tower trend explodes on to the London scene. PLP Architecture has an enviable portfolio of projects behind them, rivalled by none. Their huge ‘Nexus’ building concept for China, composed of three rotated, interlocking volumes will revolutionise Shenzhen’s Pearl River Delta if it goes ahead, while their tall timber building research was shortlisted for various awards, cementing their position as global leaders in the construction world.
For Flanagan, the recent popularity of concrete as an interiors trend is rooted in people’s flirtations with the past, the move towards wooden construction a symbol of people’s gravitation towards the future, the two co-existing harmoniously together. He wants The Oakwood Timber Tower to be something that when seen from afar, will stand as a glowing symbol of the heart of London, promising a new day.