There is a new, increased interest towards timber in Scotland, home to the highest woodland cover in Britain? Over the next three issues of BFF, Oliver Lowenstein will be looking beyond headline Scottish architectural projects, to uncover the main players in the new Highland architecture ...
This is a four page article. First published in December 2006
Turn your head 360 degrees from any part of Edinburgh’s Princess Street grand parade, and one thing’s for sure. The skyline you’ll see is one of a stone city. This is the same, wherever you head in the immediate vicinity of the city. An innocent visitor might imagine that Edinburgh, the capital city of a country with easily the largest forest cover of Britain, would have something of a vernacular timberbuild tradition! But as any Scottish architectural fan will tell you, unlike neighbouring Norway, out across the other side of the North Sea, there is no indigenous timber building tradition to speak of.
With a forest cover of at least 17% (the highest for at least 100 years), Scotland’s prime timber resource, Sitka spruce and Scots pine are the two mainstay timbers. Regardless of this, about four fifths of timber used in construction is still imported. However, significant changes do seem to be afoot, chiming with the aftermath of the de-evolved Scottish government: a number of policy directives – principally ‘Planning 72, Growing and Improved Dissemination of Technical Knowledge and Information’; the opening in 2003 of the UK’s first timber engineering department at John Napier University’s Centre for Timber Engineering (CTE); increased investment by major industry players in R&D; plus a big push by the Scottish Forestry Commission (SFC) to put its woods back on the map. All leading, hopefully to softening a historic and deep seated aversion to wood in Scotland, which the absence of it, as a material in both vernacular and mainstream buildings, has had.
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