Timber Tales : A Qualitative Study of Timber Materiality in Housing Projects
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This qualitative study addresses how architects and residents employ, experience and value wooden building materials in housing projects, arguing that buildings that are loved last longer and thus contribute to both ecological and social sustainability. Qualitative aspects are underrepresented in the common argumentation for an increased use of wooden construction materials as well as in current timber research; they are also generally absent from building codes and technical guidelines, as the main focus is on quantifiable benefits. In addition, professional views are dominant while the users’ expectations and experiences receive little attention. This thesis aims to foster a more holistic take on sustainability and to re-incorporate architectural themes into the consideration of wooden building materials. To do so, it gathers professional perspectives from academia and from practice, as well as including the views of inhabitants, who are most often laypeople. It seeks to answer the following research questions: How have materiality and particularly concepts related to wooden materials been discussed in architectural history and theory? How do contemporary architects view wooden materiality’s contribution to their architectural ambitions? How do inhabitants perceive and value the materiality of wooden constructions in the buildings they inhabit? How do these perspectives converge or diverge? In three ‘timber tales’, an overview of architectural theory related to materiality provides generalized approaches to designing with timber, which are then investigated in the contextualized built reality of recent precedents in Norway and Central Europe. Contemporary timber architects’ conception of the materiality in their housing projects is complemented by how inhabitants of these buildings experience the wooden materiality. The results of literature studies, document analyses, qualitative interviews, site visits and insights gained teaching two master’s studio courses substantiate new approaches to everyday timber architecture. They also furnish a vocabulary with which to discuss the often tacit qualities of architectural design. Furthermore, the findings reveal the untapped potential and mutual benefits of improved communication between architects and inhabitants. Although location, size or price tend to dominate the choice of a home, qualitative aspects are able to ‘up-value’ a place of residence for inhabitants; even more so if architecture is not left to speaking for itself, but when the realisation of qualities results from intersubjective processes between expert and user, such as communication by way of words or images, or participatory design processes. Regarding design, the tectonic disclosure of timber’s affordances (e.g. ways to use or modify it) should be balanced with its atmospheric and sensory qualities. This may contribute to reducing the longing for constant renewal and augmented possession and help redefine desire as a source of inspiration instead. Furthermore, architects are part of actively shaping the frameworks for the production and general reception of timber architecture. This thesis prompts the reimagination of qualities and values that contribute to more loveable built environments and raises awareness of the larger contexts with which they interact. It aspires to provide a multi-faceted background that will inspire and inform design decisions in future timber projects whilst enriching and broadening architectural discourse and education.