A timber considered unsuitable for construction has been turned into a robust, cheap and sustainable building product, in a new Welsh construction system that has won this year’s CIOB’s Architecture and Surveying Innovation Award.

Ty Unnos, which means ‘the house of one night’ in Welsh, has been devised by researchers at the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University led by Steve Coombs, head of the Design Research Unit Wales (DRU-w).

The first project to use the system, a Environmental Resources Classroom at a former steelworks in Ebbw Vale (pictured left) should start on site in the coming months.

‘There’s a huge amount of Sitka spruce in Wales, which originates in Canada and was grown to create pit props in the mining days. It’s damaging forests because it grows like a weed and is making soils too acidic to support wildlife. We wanted to find a way to harvest it and use it in construction,’ Coombs says.

The timber grows so fast it warps and twists badly, so to strengthen it DRU-w devised a method of laminating it into box-section beams, and integrating them into portal frames for increased rigidity. Ladder beam cassettes, also made of Sitka and filled with insulation material, fit between portals to create walls with low u-values.

Also taking home awards CIOB International Innovation and Research Awards are Neville Hutchinson from Shellform, whose design for a permanent, concealed flood defence barrier won the Innovation Technology and Development prize.

The Innovation Achievers Award went to Professor Albert Chan of Hong Kong Polytechnic University for his work on developing a Rapid Demountable Platform for carrying out building repair and maintenance works at height.