HOW WE WORK TOGETHER — Directors from Reid Architecture, Woolgar Hunter and Donaldson & McConnell explain why they opted for a timber-frame solution on a business centre in West Lothian.

The 2,100m2 business incubation centre on the Alba Campus in Livingston, West Lothian was commissioned by economic development agency, Scottish Enterprise Edinburgh and Lothian, to host new and small businesses. Reid Architecture worked with structural engineer Woolgar Hunter and specialist contractor Donaldson & McConnell to design an innovative and sustainable building

that uses timber structurally. Here Gordon McGhie, director at Reid Architecture Glasgow, Craig Milne, regional director at Woolgar Hunter and Neil McConnell, director at Donaldson & McConnell, explain how they achieved a cost-efficient solution and imported products and systems usually associated with the residential and industrial sectors, to an office scheme.

Q: Why did you choose timber?

A: McGhie We looked at different construction methods before designing the building. We wanted a construction approach that would be environmentally friendly and economically ambitious. We ruled out steel because timber was cheaper to use and decided to specify a glulam timber frame.

Q: How did you choose the specialist timber-frame contractor?

A: McGhie We talked with the structural engineer about the cost of bringing beam trusses from Germany but it turned out to be high. They found a local company, Donaldson & McConnell, that could supply the timber-frame and produce an off-site solution.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

A: Milne The designer and the builder had little experience of building offices with timber-frame. It was the first time we used timber-frame on such a large project.

McConnell For a two-storey office building the structure would generally be in steel. Technically, one of the problems was to ensure the connection with the members could withstand the load.

Q: How was the design developed?

A: Milne We worked closely with the specialist contractor and picked the brains of its design department. We explored ideas on protecting the timber from water at foundation level. We thought concrete wouldn’t be adequate, so used steel underground to protect the timber.

McConnell We had a lot of conversations with the structural engineers when we were preparing the drawings to calculate the budget costs for the contractor and develop the details.

Q: What kind of timber did you specify?

A: Milne On the first floor of the building we used TGI joist technology with plywood sheeting, which is an eco-friendly alternative to concrete planks or poured slab.

Q: Were there any issues with the logistics?

A: McConnell Our factory isn’t far from the site so our vehicles took half an hour to carry the timber. When we worked on the Eden Project in Cornwall, it took up to two days to get to the site.

Q: What was the impact of value engineering on the specification?

A: McConnell There wasn’t any because we had closely calculated the costs with the engineers before going to tender. Developing the project was straightforward because we had an input from the start. The main contractor wanted us to cut our prices. We gave them some discounts but not as much as they’d have liked to. It was a battle royale.

Q: What’s your opinion of the finished result?

A: McGhie We’re really pleased with it. This project proves there is potential for timber frame structures for offices.

McConnell The client must be pleased. We haven’t been sued yet!

Specifer 05 January 2007