Maggie’s Oldham: The world’s first permanent hardwood CLT structure

Maggie’s Oldham in the UK is the first building in the world made of hardwood cross-laminated timber. It is a pivotal moment for modern architecture and construction.

The world’s first building made from hardwood cross-laminated timber (CLT), has opened in the UK. Designed by dRMM Architects and supported by the American Hardwood Export Council, Maggie’s Oldham “proves that a building made of Tulipwood CLT is possible, and it can be done on a strict budget and in record time,” David Venables, European Director of AHEC, said.

Maggie’s is a charity that provides practical and emotional support to people living with cancer.

dRMM chose tulipwood for the design of Maggie’s Oldham for the positive influence wood has on people and for the beauty, strength and warmth inherent to American tulipwood. Wood is known to significantly reduce blood pressure, heart rates and recovery times. It has more health and well-being benefits than any other building material, according to Wood Housing Humanity Report 2015. This makes the material the right fit, structurally and conceptually.

This pioneering piece of permanent architecture is constructed from more than 20 panels of five layer cross-laminated American tulipwood, ranging in size from 0.5m – 12m long. It contains 27.6m3 of American tulipwood and 1.1m3 of American ash, equivalent to around 55.22m3 and 2.1m3 respectively of sawn wood before processing, which in turn comes from around 115.7m3 of logs.

Maggie’s Oldham is also significant in that it demonstrates the benefits of building with tulipwood CLT—its unparalleled strength and lightness, speed of construction and sustainability. American tulipwood is approximately 70 per cent stronger in bending than a typical CLT grade softwood.

Tulipwood CLT is one of the most sustainable timber species because of how fast it replenishes, through natural growth alone. All the logs (tulipwood and ash) will be replaced in just 120 seconds.

The material was first invented in 2013, a collaboration between dRMM Architects, AHEC, and Arup, for a London Design Festival project, The Endless Stair. Arup’s engineering calculations showed the structure could have supported 100 people at any one time. This was the first time a hardwood species was used to make CLT.

The boundaries of this material were further tested in The Smile, a structurally ambitious installation for the 2016 London Design Festival.

Design Elements

dRMM co-founder Prof Alex de Rijke’s experiments with engineered timber have progressed during 30 years in practice and academe.

“From the Oldham project inception we knew it was the right material for Maggie’s, not only structurally and visually, but conceptually. An elevated, open plan, all-timber and glass building – with trees growing through it, and every detail considered from the perspective of use, health, and delight – was always going to be special,” Prof de Rijke commented.

“Maggie’s Oldham has a built-in, very visible holistic design message that supports the central aims of the design – to uplift and offer hope to people living with cancer. The applications for sustainably grown hardwood, particularly fast-growing tulipwood CLT is endless. The environmental, structural and visual qualities are demonstrated explicitly at dRMM’s Maggie’s; a manifesto for wood as the natural choice for contemporary architecture of physical and psychological well-being.”

The main kitchen table is a design by Barnby Day that was commissioned by Alex de Rijke and AHEC for the Wish List project for London Design Festival 2014. It is built by Benchmark Furniture from recycled tulipwood CLT. The top was left over from the Wish List and the base is made from off-cuts of CLT that came from the windows and doors of Maggie’s Oldham.

For AHEC, Maggie’s Oldham is one of the most important developments in a decade of research and development into structural timber innovation and one that could broaden the use of CLT in the construction industry. The creation of this product and significant use of hardwood will transform the way architects and engineers approach timber construction.

“This structure proves that hardwoods have a role to play in the timber construction revolution,” Mr Venables concluded.