The AJ and James Hardie recently hosted a CPD-accredited talk on fire safety by building regs expert and AJ columnist Geoff Wilkinson, followed by a panel discussion
‘We should build a three-storey, timber-framed building, put a mattress on the balcony, a motorbike in the front room with a full tank of petrol, and set fire to it,’ says Waugh Thistleton Architects co-founder Anthony Thistleton.
Far from being a pyromaniac, Thistleton is a fierce ambassador for the environmental and fire-safety benefits of modern timber construction. He is speaking at a masterclass event at the Science Gallery in central London on Friday, 28 June, organised by the AJ and partner James Hardie, following a talk on fire safety by Geoff Wilkinson, managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants, AJ Specification columnist and a building regulations expert.
Thistleton says more could be done to shift public and political opinion towards timber-framed buildings. A demonstration project in which a mock residential tower was built with a cross-laminated timber (CLT) or glulam frame, loaded with the fire risks of modern life and then ignited, would go a long way to proving just how safe the material is, he says.
Thistleton – whose practice has published a book showcasing timber frame construction – says the government’s ban on combustible materials in external walls of new high-rise buildings has hit the sector hard.
‘We need to look to testing,’ he says. ‘In the USA, you also can’t use combustible materials in the external walls of buildings above a certain height – unless they’re proved to be safe by testing. This lack of testing as a system prevents the use of CLT in the UK, which we know is safe if it is installed correctly.’
Fellow panellist Kelly Harrison, an associate structural engineer at Heyne Tillett Steel, adds that experiments across the Atlantic had shown just how safe timber frames are.