Education, Interview, Timber | 09 April 2022
Tabitha Binding on timber education for the next generation.
How are the building professionals of tomorrow being educated about healthy buildings and timber construction?
We asked Tabitha Binding Education and Engagement lead at Timber Development UK to tell us what is happening in timber education, about Timber Development UK and about her work there.
Please tell our readers about your role
I worked for TRADA the Timber Research and Development Association previously and we merged with the Timber Trade Federation to become Timber Development UK. We provide information and support on all things timber! From seed to saw, from forest to furniture, from product to post occupancy evaluation.
I lead on education and engagement and my main focus is future professionals across the UK who are studying any built environment subject. I also work with lecturers, professionals and the wider timber industry, encouraging, enthusing and educating so that we learn to use timber wisely and effectively where appropriate.
What is the greatest challenge that you face in your role and why?
There is only one of me and I cover the whole country! The curriculums can often make it difficult to include timber, engineering especially, but this has changed recently because of sustainability being introduced. My biggest frustration is the siloing of learning and education, I believe we need to be interdisciplinary if we are to make a difference and significantly reduce our carbon emissions.
“I lead on education and engagement and my main focus is future professionals across the UK who are studying any built environment subject.”
Tabitha Binding, Timber Development UK
Why is it so important to provide specialist timber training and guidance to students studying architecture and engineering related subjects?
Timber is unforgiving, reacting to moisture and fire. There are multiple species and multiple products so understanding what to specify where is important. Although timber is a renewable resource, it only works if we keep it in use for longer than it took to grow — without that, can it be truly sustainable?
If you could change the existing curriculum of architecture and engineering students, what changes would you make and why?
I would like to introduce a first and second year foundational design course option for students to complete before choosing whether to specialise in either engineering or architecture (or both!). My heart lies in Architectural Technology, interlaced with Engineering and Building Services, and I think all architects and engineers should be able to build something before they qualify. Designing, modelling, and calculating on paper is so different from actual construction. I think that building physics should also be included, alongside retrofit and reuse education.
What matters most to Timber Development UK why?
Timber Development UK is there to provide support to its members and the wider public. We make sure the timber products that come to market are responsibly sourced and fit for purpose. We want to ensure that timber is understood, specified, and supplied correctly. That it lasts in furniture, fencing, fixtures and fittings, buildings, and landscapes for as long as possible so that the carbon sequestered whilst the tree was growing stays locked up as long as possible. This will help to increase the amount of carbon stored within the built environment.
What makes Timber Development UK stand and what do you do differently?
We can answer questions on everything timber related, from species to source, mill to product, production line to MMC, carbon sequestered to carbon stored. With the recent merger of the supply and specifier organisations, we have united the whole supply chain, making us interdisciplinary.
“I believe we need to be interdisciplinary if we are to make a difference and significantly reduce our carbon emissions.”
Tabitha Binding, Timber Development UK
What are the greatest challenges facing the industry today and how do you help to address them?
The biggest challenge is the understanding of timber at a personal, business and industry level. Perhaps unfairly, timber has been caught up in the aftermath of the devasting Grenfell tragedy, but it has provided an opportunity for the industry to look at regulations, testing and accreditation procedures. We’ve started working with partners to find any gaps in all these areas and we now work to address them with appropriate solutions.
Can you tell us about a project that you loved working on which exemplifies your work?
I run an interdisciplinary student challenge which has grown and improved over its iterations. We bring together timber professionals and design professionals to educate participants and to network with each other. The events also open doors to potential employers for the students, so it has multiple benefits!
We started in 2018 and in that year, 60 third year architects, engineers and landscape architecture students designed a timber car park! The following year, we included QS’s and looked at student accommodation on top of an existing building. In 2020, we worked with a client to design a housing scheme on a live site, introducing Passivhaus principles.
In 2021, we very nervously ventured online during the Covid-19 lockdown and opened the entry to students in any built environment subject, from first years to PhD’s and 2020 graduates and looked at Riverside Sunderland, a housing scheme for 100 dwellings. We focused on one house in detail, and the sessions were a huge success — thank goodness, as when we embarked on it we had no idea if it would work!
Further to this to keep participants and the wider industry informed on all our educational sessions, we run a series of webinars which feature leading industry professionals who share their knowledge and experience to help us all learn how to build with timber wisely and effectively. All the recordings are available on our YouTube channel which you can access here. We also have an Eventbrite page you can visit to find our more.
This year we are kicking off an even bigger and better challenge, working with partners and sponsors to provide software and support to our participants to help them upskill and learn about other disciplines. The challenge is to create a community building, designed and delivered to Passivhaus standard that sits lightly on the planet, producing more energy than it consumes. It will be 800m2 and we have set a budget of £1.6m.
“I believe we need to move beyond individualism and become a community of collaborators and it is happening, just slowly.”
Tabitha Binding, Timber Development UK
How do you foster collaboration with the institutions you work with?
Gentle encouragement and persuasion! I have learnt that there are early adopters and late adopters of timber, and this has been a challenge. Also, some individuals, institutions or industries will always want to avoid collaboration which makes my job and the promotion of timber harder. I believe we need to move beyond individualism and become a community of collaborators and it is happening, just slowly.
What is Timber Development UK’s vision for the future?
One vision, one voice. Together we can provide the timber, education and support needed to grow, source, produce, design, engineer, specify, construct, renovate and retrofit wisely and well!
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
It was great talking to Tabitha and inspiring to know that her passion is helping to educate future designers and specifiers on the benefits of timber. Many thanks to Tabitha for participating.
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