The Minor Woods of Ireland.


Experimental birch forest, Castletown Desmesne, Co. Tipperary.[Elizabeth Shotton]
 Session Chairs: Dr. Elizabeth Shotton and Marcus Donaghy

Dr Elizabeth Shotton is currently Director of Research, Innovation and Impact in the UCD School of Architecture, Planning and Environmental Policy. She teaches in construction technology and design studio, with an emphasis on sustainable building and development, at both undergraduate and graduate level. Elizabeth’s research interests are closely linked to teaching, with a focus on the sustainable use of material resources through advances in materials, construction technologies and design processes. She is currently working on an IRC funded project Minor Harbours, examining the evolution of maritime engineering in small harbours along the east coast of Ireland from the seventeenth century to the

Marcus Donaghy is currently a practicing architect in Dublin with the award winning firm of Donaghy & Dimond, and teaches design studio in the Architecture programme at University College Dublin.

Sustainable Use of Birch in the Irish Construction Industry.

Simon McGough.

Birch is a species of hardwood tree indigenous to Ireland and with a long history of practical usage here. It is a pioneer species that colonises bare ground, acting as a nursery species to enable the natural re-colonising of land, with rapid growth and a short rotation cycle (c.35-40 years). These characteristics have contributed to the species’ success in other parts of Europe, Scandinavia and North America as a biomass fuel, and as a component of wood panel products, and in the production of plywood. More recently, the advent of environmentally-conscious and cost-efficient construction systems such as cross laminated timber, for example, has led to investigations into the suitability of the smaller diameter, or ‘lesser’ hardwoods for inclusion in these products. CLT panels which utilise birch, ash, poplar or black locust, for example, demonstrate increased performance in terms of compression strength, rolling shear and longevity (use-life expectancy of the panel). Inclusion of hardwood species can therefore have the effect of reducing the panel thickness required to achieve the desired performance specifications. Now, in 2016, we are witnessing CLT products coming to the market which combine softwood and hardwood species (namely; scots pine and birch). These mixed-species CLT products offer an improved-performance panel, (according to manufacturers’ advertised spec’s) as well as demonstrating a significantly more efficient use of birch timber (when compared to plywood, billets, and most engineered timber products). In Ireland, an improved population of birch is expected to be generally superior in productivity and form to previous planting stock, as indicated by the early stage growth assessments of field trials, and it is hoped that testing of the first commercial thinnings next year will confirm the improved status of these trees. Inclusion in the grant-aid scheme for forestry planting, together with the relatively short rotation would make the species a favourable choice for forestry farmers. As the first improved birch stands reach maturity, it would be pertinent to consider how we might optimise the construction industry’s use of this resource. This paper gives a brief synopsis of the birch improvement program to date. It considers potential sustainable uses for birch wood in construction generally, and looks more specifically at the application of birch thinnings to the manufacture of CLT products.

Coed Cymru : Exploring the architectural potential of the Welsh Forest.

Wayne Forster & Steve Coombs, Cardiff University.
Prior to the turn of the Millenium, the Design Research Unit of the Welsh School of Architecture began to work with David Jenkins of Coed Cymru (Wood Wales) on a series of architectural projects.
Jenkins Rackhamesque thesis was that if an architecture informed by sound ecological woodland practices could be encouraged and developed it would contribute to a number of initiatives David had already implemented and that were aimed to have a positive effect on Welsh forestry.
For our part, as architects, not foresters or silviculturists, we were mainly interested in the potential of a new kind of architecture which would respond to place and identity – although sustainability was also on the agenda. Over a period of a dozen years or so, in spite of little funding, a number of projects were designed and constructed which probed some of the ideas that lay behind the original two and by now interlinked theses.
The catalogue of work included amongst other ‘outputs’ a successful three year funded British Government funded project to develop a low-cost affordable rural housing system known as Ty Unnos, and this was recognised in the RIBA Presidents Awards for research in 2013.
David Jenkins died in 2015 and with his loss inevitably some of our enthusiasm for the cause went with him, although to be fair we needed to pause and reflect. This paper is a reflection on this work. The opportunity to reveal the work and the lessons learned and to discuss them with ‘relations’ will hopefully signal a new impetus and direction for the work.
 Urban Forestry _ Making useful a neglected resource
Alan Meredith
The trees which line our streets, roads and hedges are currently too often used for low
value firewood at the end of their life. These trees are of inconsistent dimension and
quality, however if each tree is managed on an individual basis and processed as such,
other possibilities arise. If we can use material available locally we reduce our
dependence on unsustainable imports along with having the opportunity to retain the
inherent values of; provenance, history and non-uniform dimensions and figure.
If we have a better understanding of local materials available and design with these
materials in mind, could working closely with relevant stakeholders produce more
meaningful work? Irish hardwood trees planted for their environmental and recreational
benefits are of a diverse variety. The end of life use is currently being underexploited
as the wood is not appealing to mainstream markets.
Currently there is no protocol for dealing with trees at the end of their life in Dublin
city and too often they are shredded, composted or chopped for firewood. A working
document needs to be composed dealing with felled trees and currently this document does
not exist. It is the tree surgeon who controls the market. Maintenance and life cycle
care is necessary to produce higher quality timber, establishing a culture of using urban
trees will create awareness to this fact.
‘‘The firming of the firewood market has had a detrimental impact on this market […]
most urban sawlogs become the property of the tree surgeons when they win a contract.’’1
Two examples of the potential are as follows;
‘the dream is triggered by the substance’2
In this case a beech tree provides short lengths of timber (typical of non-woodland
trees) to make structures whose span and application is much greater than what is
commonly perceived. This approach is tested in the construction of a timber deck,
creating a communal gathering point in a educational setting and at a music festival.
‘It is a question’, writes Deleuze and Guattari, ‘of surrendering to the wood, and
following where it leads’3
In this case a felled tree was removed from a Dublin school, transported to a workshop,
carved into a seat and returned to the school. A video documenting the process was made
for the students. The tree had been destined for firewood.
1Dr Philip Blackstock – Independent Arboricultural Consultant, email to author 29-01-2015
2 Jo, Vandenberghe. “From the State of Grace to the State of Emergency/Borrowing from Tektonikos,” n.d.
3 Tim, Ingold. “The Textility of Making.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 2010, no. 34 pg. 91–102.
From Minor Timbers to Major Structures.
Fiona McDonald, Architect | Visual Artist.
Background: My cross – disciplinary spatial practice attempts to expand our awareness of socio-economic development associated with place. My work explores the potential inherent in alternative considerations of space, materials, economic exchange and an expanded concept of architecture.
Context: Pruning semi – mature deciduous trees in a woodland in County Wexford and subsequently whittling some of these small pieces of timber prompted me to question what other uses could be made of this timber in terms of its use in construction.
Objective: This research aims to: 1. Explore links between two strands of my cross – disciplinary spatial practice – place and making – using small pieces of irish timber that is overlooked for use in construction for a number of reasons including limitations in scale, structural strength and irregular growth 2. Develop innovative methods of joining small timbers for use in construction  – inspired by traditional Japanese joinery techniques where no metal fixtures or glue are employed
Methods:  During the Workhouse Guild Research Residency offered by The Workhouse Union, Callan, Co. Kilkenny, July 2016 I began empirical research into methods of jointing small members of Irish timber without the use of glue or metal fixtures. I have subsequently designed and cut joints and constructed a number of test structures in The Woodland – a site for practice research and investigation.
Results: Images of the test structures and qualitative evaluation. My next stage of research will identify future projects that can further test the methods used in this research.