By Candace Sofianos King | Photos by Ed Reeve

Meet MultiPly, a sustainable tulipwood darling of groundbreaking three-dimensional proportions.

Timber finds itself at a socio and environmental turning point with MultiPly, a carbon-neutral American tulipwood pavilion recently launched at the London Design Festival. The nine-metre high wooden pavilion made entirely of tulipwood opened to the public in the Sackler Courtyard of the V&A in the world’s design capital on 15 September and remained there until 1 October.

Conceived by an ingenious team up between research-oriented practice Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and built environment professionals Arup, MultiPly illustrates how modular cross-laminated construction in hardwood is a viable solution to the current housing crisis. The project boasts eco-warrior status as the 43m3 of tulipwood that makes up MultiPly stores the equivalent of 30t of carbon dioxide and is replaced with natural growth in the American hardwood forest in just five minutes.

As a landmark project of the much-celebrated London Design Festival, the construction of the three-dimensional structure ushers in visitors and encourages them to re-think the way we design and build our homes and cities. Like a wooden wonderland, MultiPly is comprised of a maze-like series of interconnected spaces that overlap and intertwine.

An intimate meander through MultiPly

Like a piece of flat-pack furniture, the pavilion arrived as a kit of parts and was quietly and efficiently assembled in under a week. Built out of a flexible system, made of 17 modules of American tulipwood cross laminated timber (CLT), with digitally fabricated joints, the striking structure is made with the first UK-manufactured CLT panels. At the crown of the structure is a module with a thermo-treated tulipwood interior layer – the first time thermally modified timber (TMT) has been incorporated as a protective layer in CLT.

MultiPly tackles two of the current age’s biggest challenges – the pressing need for housing and the urgency to fight climate change and gracefully attempts to offer an innovative solution – it presents the fusion of modular systems and sustainable construction materials as an answer.

Given that it is built out of modules, the pavilion can be taken apart and reassembled into a new home in any given location. According to Andrew Waugh, co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects, the main ambition of this project is to publicly debate how environmental challenges can be addressed through innovative, affordable construction.

A studio that has been at the forefront of wood construction for decades, Waugh Thistleton Architects has pioneered the innovative use of timber in the built environment. Acknowledging buildings’ impact on the environment, the studio practices sustainability in the widest sense of the word, focusing not solely on energy in use, but on embodied energy and longevity.

“We are at a crisis point in terms of both housing and CO2 emissions and we believe that building in a versatile, sustainable material, such as tulipwood, is an important way of addressing these issues,” explains Waugh.

A social and sustainable giant

To keep up with population growth and deal with years of under supply, about 250 000 new homes would need to be built in the UK every year. During 2016/2017, 184 000 new homes were built in the UK, a shortfall of about 66 000 homes. To increase supply to meet demand, industry and the world must change the way it thinks and constructs.

MultiPly explores a new, more sustainable way of building, marrying a readily available carbon-negative material with modular design. AHEC, the leading international trade association for the US hardwood industry, has collaborated with several stellar architects including David Adjaye, Alex de Rijke, Alison Brooks and now Waugh Thistleton – to demonstrate the structural, aesthetic and environmental properties of American tulipwood.

Tulipwood is sourced from the eastern US, where the hardwood forest area is expanding at a rate of one football pitch every minute, and already exceeds 110 million hectares, equivalent to the combined area of France and Spain. This makes the material both sustainable and environmentally friendly, especially as it is one of the most abundant American hardwoods.

CLT: MultiPly’s drawcard

MultiPly makes use of a wood engineering technique known as cross-laminating, where timber planks are laid perpendicular to one another and glued together to form very strong, stiff and stable panels. CLT has traditionally been made of softwood trees, however, AHEC – together with Arup – has experimented with CLT made from fast-grown US tulipwood for the past decade.

The research and projects undertaken have proven that weight for weight, tulipwood CLT is stronger than steel and concrete and can be machined to incredibly high tolerances. This makes it ideal for prefabrication and rapid assembly, reducing construction times by around 30%. Adding to its strength, tulipwood is an inexpensive and easy to machine hardwood that is incredibly strong for its weight.

The use of tulipwood CLT means that large-scale timber buildings can be constructed without the use of concrete or steel. These properties, together with its dramatic marble-like appearance, make tulipwood a perfect pioneer hardwood for innovative timber construction. Tulipwood planks are imported from the US, but the panels for MultiPly have been manufactured in the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC), the UK’s first CLT factory.

MultiPly would not have been possible without the contribution of timber from AHEC members Allegheny Wood Products, Ballie Lumber, Bingaman Lumber Inc, Boss Lumber Corporation,

Classic American Hardwoods, Collins Hardwoods, Latham Timber, Northland Forest Products,

Parton Lumber and Thompson Hardwoods Inc.


Wood you like to know

Tulipwood accounts for 7.7% of the total standing volume in America’s hardwood forests. Each year, even after harvest, the volume of tulipwood in the US forest grows by 19 million m³, the equivalent to more than 19 Olympic-sized swimming pools a day.