Malachy McNamara explains his work on The Enterprise Centre, a timber framed project showcasing low-carbon, sustainable building. The Centre has been shortlisted for The Structural Awards 2017.

The Enterprise Centre was designed and built as a sustainability showcase and a state of the art facility to nurture the University of East Anglia’s future green entrepreneurs. Throughout the design process we were committed to sourcing trade and low-carbon materials locally, and achieving outstanding energy efficiency. 

The use of local materials and suppliers was important to achieving our sustainability goals: working with them early in the design programme and during construction reduced the distances travelled by teams connected to the project and reduced designers’ reliance on imported products.  

The building demonstrates that low carbon, natural materials can produce stunning and user-friendly buildings that are easily reused or reworked and do not pass the costs of demolition and waste onto future generations. 

Our primary challenge for The Enterprise Centre was to use local timber, which would hopefully create more employment locally and lead to the area becoming known for structural timber and skills. We visited local forests and met with local suppliers to understand the obstacles to using local timber in the project, identified areas of the project which would be ideal for local materials; chose a supplier and saw mill and were ultimately successful. 

Enterprise Centre ThatchThe exposed timber frame is just the surface of this building’s material story, which is rich with local and recycled materials. Another striking feature is the vertical thatch, a rain screen that protects the building from the elements by providing a water and wind tight outer layer. Thatch is also a very robust cladding material that (with effective maintenance) can last well over 70 years - far longer than most modern cladding systems, which reduces costs throughout the building’s life. It is also a local and natural product which provides local employment and is very simple to recycle, should this be a needed at the end of the buildings life.

Both the client and the public have really engaged with the structure. I have been to a few events at the building, and met with users who have been fascinated by the exposed timber elements. I always get asked why don’t we have more timber framed buildings in the UK – I hope that following the building’s success clients will start to accept and demand more sustainable materials in the structure.  

The Centre is a great example of how different materials can both contribute to low carbon solutions and provide a well finished, user-friendly building – it’s a definite look to the future and one we'll be delighted to showcase at The Structural Awards.

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