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Falmouth School Design & Technology Building

Falmouth School Design & Technology Building

Commercial & Public Access Highly Commended 2009

Location: Falmouth
Building Owner: Falmouth
Architect: Urban Salon
Building/Main Contractor: Cowlin Construction
Structural Engineers: Momentum Consulting Engineers
Joinery: KLH UK
Wood Species: European Spruce (Austria)

The bold sawtooth-shaped timber structure of the design studio at Falmouth School was a response to a brief from a group of 13-year-old pupils that acted as the client throughout the project. They asked for an inspiring new learning environment that would be a beacon for sustainable design and landmark for their school. The project was completed in August 2008 for a budget of £500,000.

The project came out of the Sorrell Foundation’s ‘joinedupdesignforschool’ programme that gives pupils control and responsibility as clients. The pupil client team’s brief called for an extension to the existing Design & Technology block in which they could develop conceptual and design ideas. A key early decision they made was to insist on timber for the structure because of its ecological benefits over other structural options presented by the structural engineer.

The 95sqm extension is a solid prefabricated cross-laminated timber construction with the timber structure exposed to the interior and external soffits and wall returns, and standing-seam zinc to the roof and walls. The extension is constructed from 56m3 of timber, saving approximately 56 tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with a concrete equivalent (source: Forestry Commission).

The project team worked with sub-contractors KLH UK from initial design through to installation. The timber panels were manufactured from spruce with PEFC certification at KLH’s zero-waste production plant. One of the challenges in the project was the unusual geometries of the building, which meant careful co-ordination between 3D computer model, drawings, fabrication and onsite installation. The only steel structural elements in the extension are T-sections supporting the ridge of the roof from the glulam beams below. Designed with half lap joints there are no other visible fixings in the building.

The use of prefabricated timber panels meant less construction time and less disruption to the pupils; the structure was assembled on site in less than two weeks. The existing building, in which lessons continued throughout construction, was also upgraded. Cross-laminated timber was used to form a solar shade to the south of the existing building to prevent summer overheating and woodfibre insulation, containing over 95% waste timber from sustainable forests, was applied to the walls.

The constraints of a tight budget meant balancing bespoke prefabricated elements with standard components and onsite craftsmanship. A standard timber and aluminium window was used in the extension, with a local carpenter (West Country Property Services) working onsite to assimilate the two systems into a unified whole. The simple interior treatment in which the walls were coated in water-based flame-retardant varnish makes best use of the timber’s natural beauty. By exposing the timber structure to the interior, pupils can understand the construction of the extension, making the building an educational tool in its own right.