Pushing the boundaries of natural building technologies

The Enterprise Centre which will open at the University of East Anglia in 2015 is pushing the boundaries of using natural building technologies in a commercial building.

John French, CEO of the Adapt Centre for the Built Environment, said he felt that industry was ignoring local and natural materials, especially when it came to the specification of large commercial buildings, which tended to rely on aluminium and zinc cladding. “The building aims to demonstrate to industry and society that natural products can have a lower carbon footprint and provide very attractive alternatives to conventional technologies” says French.

At over 3000m2 the building is being delivered by Morgan Sindall with architects Architype and is one of the largest timber frame structures in the UK, indeed the only part of the building using concrete and steel is the baseplate. The Adapt Low Carbon Group set a target of achieving 80% biorenewables on top of Passivhaus and BREEAM standards.

70% of the studwork for the building came from kiln-dried Corsican Pine sourced locally from the Thetford Forest. This had never been done before and Adapt, through its InCrops project, worked with BRE to set new standards for the use of kiln-dried Corsican Pine. The intention of stimulating the market for local wood is gaining traction with Grown in Britain looking at adopting the standard.

The building is clad in a straw thatch rain screen consisting of 400 off-site manufactured panels – a unique technique developed specifically for The Enterprise Centre by Morgan Sindall. “We are revisiting a traditional building technology and bringing it into the 21st century” says French. The straw has been specifically developed by the University’s John Innes Centre for its strength characteristics.

Internal rooms will demonstrate the range of natural material solutions that are available including bio-resin boards made from a composite of oil seed rape and flax, Norfolk reed board cladding, nettle fibre and baked clay and straw.

French sees the building as a catalyst to stimulate the uptake of natural solutions. “We’re already starting to see high-end design using natural materials but future constraints on resources mean the uptake will spread to the mainstream.” The centre has been carefully costed to be comparable with conventional builds in order to prove that sustainable doesn’t cost more.

The building will be used as an exemplar to stimulate the local supply chain. The building will act as an incubator for a low carbon business cluster, enabling startups to benefit from the knowledge of the Adapt Centre. SMEs in the East of England are also able to benefit from free business support and technical tours of the building under construction to help them address the low carbon sector.

SBS can provide a wide range of eco materials for your sustainable building project. If you would like more information on building low carbon homes, please call 0800 688 8388 or email helpline@tpsbs.co.uk.

This article, including the image, has been adapted from an article published in Technology4Change.