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The John Hope Gateway is a pioneer in modern wood construction

The John Hope Gateway is a pioneer in modern wood construction

Arriving early at the West Gate of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, I stared through the gate at some amazing wood and glass and wondered who did this marvelous mix of wood and glass? I found that the John Hope Gateway was designed by Cullinan Studio in 2009; today we take this kind of wood construction for granted, but back then it was really cutting edge. Ted Cullinan has also been one of my favourite architects, ever since he visited the School of Architecture in Toronto when I was a student; I was profoundly influenced by his wonderful house. Cullinan has always been of the best practicing sustainable design; Jonathan Glancey of the Guardian once wrote that “Cullinan is proof that an architect can be “green” without being tweedy, embarrassingly “right-on”, or plain archaic.”

But touring the building, I found that it was about much more than just wood construction; “The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh looked to the John Hope Gateway to put across its messages about environmental sustainability, not just in its exhibitions but also through the building itself.”

Careful orientation, good daylighting, natural ventilation and high insulation levels all contribute to the building’s energy efficiency – and strong and durable materials will guarantee a long life for the Gateway.

On the website they note:

Using natural, local materials to construct the Gateway has also reduced its carbon footprint. Timber – Scottish wherever possible – was an obvious choice and is used extensively for both structures and finishes, including the structured veneered lumber of the mullions and transoms of the glazing, the helical stair and major items of furniture. Even the restaurant table tops have been made from trees previously felled in the Garden.

The cross-laminated timber glulam roof floats over the whole building as a single horizontal plane on pencil-thin steel columns – the most slender that we could devise. A series of coffered timber bays give an individual identity to open plan spaces below. The curved glass wall looks onto the zigzag beds of the new biodiversity garden.

I do not know when the copy for their website was written, but I did not see a bit of Cross-Laminated Timber in the building; perhaps CLT is becoming the generic term for engineered wood, which is unfortunate. There is Glulam and there is CLT, doing different things.

But there was marvelous glue-laminated wood (where all the grain goes in the same direction) with wonderful connection details, those dramatic circles of bolts.

Stair in John Hope Gateway/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

And the stair, built up of some kind of laminated veneer, is a wooden wonder.

A close look at laminations.

The building is definitely a product of its time, describing the sustainability features:

wind turbineWind turbine at John Hope Gateway/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Perhaps most obvious is the wind turbine mounted on the green sedum roof – but there are also other renewable energy systems, such as a biomass-fuelled boiler, solar collectors for hot water and photovoltaic panels.

I suppose if you are in a Botanic Garden you have a lot of accessible biomass to burn, but vertical access wind turbines surrounded by trees are not going to spin much. One can complain about sedum roofs not doing much either but hey, this was ten years ago. But other than that, such an inspiring building, a model of sustainable design, a pioneer in modern wood. See much better photos at Cullinan Studio.

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