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A collaboration between Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), and ARUP, illustrates how modular cross-laminated construction in hardwood is a viable solution to the need for inexpensive housing. The partnership has designed a carbon-neutral American tulipwood pavilion named MultiPly, which is currently open to the public in the Sackler Courtyard of the V&A in London for the London Design Festival.

Hardwood could be the solution to housing needsMultiPly is comprised of a maze-like series of interconnected spaces that overlap and intertwine. It has been conceived and constructed to encourage visitors to re-think the way we design and build our homes and cities.

The three-dimensional structure is built out of a flexible system, made of 17 modules of American tulipwood cross laminated timber (CLT), with digitally fabricated joints. Like a piece of flat-packed furniture, the pavilion arrived as a kit of parts and has been assembled in under a week. 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.

“The main ambition of this project is to publicly debate how environmental challenges can be addressed through innovative, affordable construction,” says Andrew Waugh, Co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects. “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.”

Tulipwood is sourced from the Eastern United States, 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 has traditionally been made of softwood trees. However, together with Arup, AHEC has been experimenting with CLT made from fast-grown U.S. tulipwood for the past decade. These bodies 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%.

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 marble-like appearance, make tulipwood a perfect hardwood for innovative timber construction.

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