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The use of wood in design-build architectural education

Research project A two-year project researching how architecture educators use wood in hands-on design-build projects.

All over the world, architecture educators have initiated so-called ‘design-build’ projects in universities. These give students the opportunity to enhance their education with hands-on experience of constructing buildings. Given how many of these employ wood as the primary material, we speculated that maybe there was something in the material itself which had a pedagogical advantage, helping students understand the processes, physics and methods of construction. We spoke to architecture educators in England, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Africa and Switzerland to find out more.

Head of project

James Brown
Associate professor

Project overview

Project period:

2020-12-01 2022-01-31

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Umeå School of Architecture

Research area


External funding

The Kempe Foundation

Project description

Wood is one of the most widely available and widely used building materials. Its relationship to the built environment is complex, not only as a building material but also as a fuel for thermal comfort and cooking food. In the densely populated temperate regions of the planet, the plentiful supply of both hardwood and softwood has provided societies with building materials that can provide shelter with excellent thermal properties through seasonal variations in temperature. From the most basic shelters to the most sacred places of worship, buildings have been constructed out of wood and organic materials for thousands of years.
Considering the pressing consequences of the climate emergency on everyday life, wood is now considered to be one of the most promising building materials to help us achieve ambitious sustainability targets and meet the United Nation’s widely supported Sustainable Development Goals. The potential for wood to replace concrete and steel in construction creates huge potential for buildings to become net carbon negative, capturing carbon instead of releasing it into the atmosphere through their production and construction.
How can students of architecture better understand the qualities, characteristics, and possibilities of building with wood? 
Funded by the Kempe Foundations (650,000kr) Wood in design-build architectural education explores the methods, philosophies, and possibilities of teaching architecture students to build with wood. It responds to the contemporary urgency with which wood is now being discussed as a material with the potential to be much more widely used in construction.
The project has now concluded. Two peer-reviewed articles are now in review with scientific journals and the book Practising Wood in Architecture: connecting design, construction and sustainability will shortly be published with Routledge. The book will explore the ways in which architecture students work hands-on with wood as part of their education through international case studies in England, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Africa, and Switzerland. These initiatives demonstrate the many advantages of wood, including its simplicity of use, its affordability, and its sustainability. The book focuses on ongoing initiatives that can show the educational and professional impact of the use of wood in architecture and construction by students.

External funding

Latest update: 2024-03-11