Success for American hardwood projects at Wood Awards 2017


The American Hardwood Export Council is delighted to announce that four projects using American hardwoods have won Wood Awards. Winners were announced at the annual Wood Awards ceremony at Carpenters’ Hall on 21st November, by host Johanna Agerman Ross, Founder of Disegno magazine, and Curator of Twentieth Century and Contemporary Furniture and Product Design at the V&A.

Established in 1971, the Wood Awards is the UK’s premier competition for excellence in architecture and product design in the world’s only naturally sustainable material. The Awards recognise, encourage and promote outstanding design, craftsmanship and installation using wood.


There were four projects shortlisted within the Education & Public Sector category. The judges chose Maggie’s Oldham as the winner because it is a world-first project that pushes the boundaries of hardwood, and for its sensitive approach to architecture.

Wood Species: American tulipwood, American white oak 

Location: Oldham 

Architect: dRMM 

Client/Owner: Maggie's 

Structural Engineer: Booth King UK 

Timber Advice & Procurement Liaison: American Hardwood Export Council 

Main Contractor/Builder: Parkinson Building Contractors 

Structural Timber Subcontractor: Züblin TimberWood Supplier 

Machining of Fluted Cladding: Morgan Timber 

Window Manufacturer: Falegnameria Aresi 

Wood Supplier: Middle Tennessee Lumber (Tulipwood) 

Built in the grounds of NHS cancer hospitals, Maggie’s Centres offer free practical and emotional support for people affected by cancer. The design of Maggie’s Oldham is less about form and more about content. Supported on slender columns, the building floats above a garden framed by pine, birch and tulip poplar trees. From a central oasis, a tree grows up through the building, bringing nature inside.

The use of wood at Maggie’s Oldham is part of a bigger design intention to reverse the norms of hospital architecture, where clinical institutionalised environments can make patients feel dispirited. In wood there is hope, humanity, scale and warmth. Maggie’s Oldham is the first permanent building constructed from sustainable tulipwood cross- laminated timber, following on from dRMM and AHEC’s development of this material with the experimental project Endless Stair in 2013. All of the walls and roof are visibly structure and form an exquisite natural timber finish internally. The tulipwood CLT has been carefully detailed to bring out its natural beauty – its fine, variegated finish is more akin to a piece of furniture than a construction material. The slatted ceiling was created from wood left over from the CLT fabrication process, ensuring no waste.

Wood fibre insulation ensures a breathable, healthy environment whilst the huge window frames are American white oak. Externally the building is draped in custom-fluted, thermally modified tulipwood, like a surreal theatrical curtain. Maggie’s Oldham is a carefully made manifesto for the architecture of health, realised in wood.


The Structural Award was chosen from all of the buildings shortlisted in each category. The Smile was awarded the Structural Award for its impressive and complex engineering which was masked by the ease with which the project rests in place.

Judge Nathan Wheatley comments, “The challenges of utilising untested American tulipwood CLT were compounded by the presence of the door at the point of maximum stress. The solution was expressed simply and elegantly by careful hidden detailing to carry the complex forces at the connections, and time was taken to further articulate this impressive structural form by introducing openings towards the tips of the cantilever walls to highlight areas where the structure required less material.”

Wood Species: American tulipwood 

Location: Chelsea College of Arts, London 

Architect: Alison Brooks Architects 

Client: American Hardwood Export Council / London Design Festival 

Structural Engineer: Arup 

CLT Manufacturer: MERK Timber GmbH, Züblin Timber 

Main Contractor/Joinery Company: Aldworth James & Bond  

Lighting Designer: SEAM 

Balustrade Joinery: John Stidworthy 

Wood Supplier: Various 

The Smile was an immersive sensory environment that integrated structure, surface, space and light to form a public gathering place.

Conceived as a habitable arc, The Smile was a 3.5m high, 4.5m wide and 34m long curved timber tube that cantilevered 12m in two directions with viewing platforms at both ends. Up to 60 visitors could enter at one time through an opening where the arc touched the ground. Innovative solutions using long screws were developed, allowing the opening to be in the most highly stressed region. The Smile was the first project in the world to use large hardwood CLT panels; the entire structure was made from just 12 tulipwood panels, each up to 14m long and 4.5m wide. The CLT panels were connected with 7,000 self-tapping screws. At the base, a glulam timber cradle filled with 20 tonnes of steel counterweights, allowed the project to be self-supporting. Perforations in the walls, concentrated in areas where there was less stress in the structure, brought dappled sunlight into the interior and dispersed where the timber was structurally working harder.

While deceptively simple in design, The Smile has been one of the most important developments in a decade of research into structural timber innovation. Merging the advantages of CLT with the strength and appearance of hardwood, a building element was created that was both structure and finish, reducing total construction cost and speed. This allowed on-site assembly in just seven days.

Tulipwood was selected for its unusual combination of high strength and low density. These stronger, thinner panels were still compatible with CNC machining and cheap self-tapping screws. As industrial tulipwood CLT was a completely new material, its strength was derived from first principles and rigorous testing.

The award marks the fourth win for The Smile this year, after previously winning the ‘Display Award’ at the World Architecture Festival,  the ‘Pavillions Award’ at the Architizer A+ Awards and the ‘Architectural Design/Small Architecture’ award in the Architecture Prize.


The furniture and product judges, led by design curator and author Max Fraser, gathered at the London Design Fair in September to assess all of the shortlisted projects. The Narin Chair by David Irwin for Case Furniture was selected as this year’s Production Made winner. The judges praised the chair’s elegant design because is both logical and comfortable. They felt that it has a generalised appeal to a variety of audiences.

Wood Species: American white oak and American black walnut, birch 

Designer: David Irwin 

Maker/Manufacturer: Case Furniture 

Wood Supplier: Various 

Case wanted to change preconceptions of what a folding chair is; a piece of furniture you would be proud to have on display at any time and not the emergency chair that comes out of the cupboard at Christmas. 

Designer David Irwin says: “It was a challenge to achieve a really comfortable seating position whilst also delivering the utilitarian rigour required of a folding chair but I think Narin delivers on both these fronts. Narin's smooth sweeping transition is accentuated through the solid timber turned legs into the formed backrest. This component is the key element of Narin's design as it not only provides a comfortable backrest but also acts as the pivot from where the back legs rotate. The seat and back are formed from a high-grade birch ply with oak or walnut veneer while the rest of the chair is solid wood.”

The Narin doesn’t comprise on aesthetics or comfort despite the folding design. 


Mark Laban’s Rustic Stool 1.0 was this year’s Student Designer category winner. In addition to winning the award, Mark has received a £1,000 cash prize. The judges were impressed by the stool’s interesting new typology which expresses the CNC and succeeds in making the digital handmade.

Wood Species: American hard maple 

Designer/Maker: Mark Laban 

College/University: Central Saint Martins 

Wood Supplier: Whitten Timber / Surrey Timbers 

Rustic Stool 1.0 was developed through a process-driven approach to design engaging directly with the manufacturing technique itself: a 3-axis CNC router. The machine’s functionality is utilized as an integral part of the design process, where idiosyncrasies and imperfections influence the development of the product.

By manipulating the machine's CAM software through playful and experimental interventions, unexpected and unconventional surfaces are created that deviate from the smooth perfected geometries associated with the conventional application of this technology. These artificially generated rough textures begin to evoke the raw state of the material in its natural form, defining the object with a kind of hybrid aesthetic that nuances rusticity through the language of the machine.

The stool is part of Digital Daiku, a collection that interprets traditional Japanese aesthetic principles and explores their possibilities to inform furniture crafted using contemporary digital manufacturing processes.

American maple was used for its overall paleness, fine grain, and its delicate colouring and tonality. These characteristics along with its hardness and good machining capabilities made it ideal for the project, and created a subtle natural canvas with which to accentuate the bold machine made form.