MultiPly, a nine-metre high, carbon-neutral wooden pavilion made entirely of American tulipwood opened to the public in the Sackler Courtyard of the V&A in time for the London Design Festival on 15 September and remained there until 1 October. The 43m3 of tulipwood that make up MultiPly store the equivalent of 30 tonnes of carbon dioxide and are replaced with natural growth in the American forest in five minutes. The installation is a collaboration between Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and ARUP, and illustrates how modular cross-laminated construction in hardwood is a viable solution to the current housing crisis. The structure is made with the first UK-manufactured cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. MultiPly, one of London Design Festival’s Landmark projects, is comprised of a maze-like series of interconnected spaces that overlap and intertwine. It has been conceived and constructed to encourage visitors to re-think the way we design and build our homes and cities. The three-dimensional structure is built out of a flexible system, made of 17 modules of American tulipwood CLT, with digitally fabricated joints. Like a piece of flat-packed furniture, the pavilion arrived as a kit of parts and has quietly and efficiently been assembled in under a week. At the crown of the structure is a module with a thermo-treated tulipwood interior layer – the first time thermally modified timber (TMT) has been incorporated as a protective later in CLT. Because it is built out of modules, the pavilion can be taken apart and reassembled in a new home after the London Design Festival. MultiPly confronts two of the current age’s biggest challenges – the pressing need for housing and the urgency to fight climate change and presents the fusion of modular systems and sustainable construction materials as a solution. “The main ambition of this project is to publicly debate how environmental challenges can be addressed through innovative, affordable construction,” says Andrew Waugh, co-founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects, a studio that has been at the forefront of wood construction for decades. “We are at a crisis point in terms of both housing and CO2 emissions and we believe that building in a versatile, sustainable material, such as tulipwood, is an important way of addressing these issues.” To keep up with population growth and deal with years of under supply, around 250,000 new homes would need to be built in the UK every year. In 2016/17, 184,000 new homes were built in the UK, a shortfall of approximately 66,000 homes. To increase supply to meet demand, we must change the way we think and build. “Waugh Thistleton Architects have been pioneering innovative uses of wood in construction for decades. MultiPly explores a new, more sustainable way of building, bringing together a readily available carbon-negative material – American tulipwood – with modular design,” says David Venables, European Director of AHEC. “AHEC has worked with many great architects – David Adjaye, Alex de Rijke, Alison Brooks, and now Waugh Thistleton – to demonstrate the structural, aesthetic and environmental properties of American tulipwood.” Tulipwood is sourced from the Eastern United States, where the hardwood forest area is expanding at a rate of one football pitch every minute, and already exceeds 110 million hectares, equivalent to the combined area of France and Spain. This makes the material both sustainable and environmentally friendly, especially as it is one of the most abundant American hardwoods - accounting for 7.7% of the total standing volume in U.S. hardwood forests. Every year, even after harvest, the volume of tulipwood in the U.S. forest grows by 19 million m3, the equivalent of over 19 Olympic swimming pools per day.
During the day, the nine-metre high American tulipwood installation promises to be fun and playful. The labyrinthine spaces lead visitors through a series of stairs, corridors and open spaces, inviting them to explore the potential of wood in architecture. In the evenings, with subtle lighting designed by SEAM, the pavilion becomes a quiet and contemplative space, allowing visitors to reflect on the beauty of its natural material. “The structure will lead people on a merry dance up and down staircases and across bridges exploring space and light,” says Waugh. MultiPly has a high level of permeability to allow views through to the facade and courtyard, but also to entice viewers into the structure, so that they can experience new, carefully considered views to the existing heritage facades of the V&A. Carolina Bartram, Project Director at Arup, commented, “Continuing our exploration of hardwood CLT on installations such as Timber Wave, The Smile and Endless Stair, MultiPly provides a playful opportunity to experiment and innovate with this tactile and adaptable material. The seemingly simple series of stacked boxes are a complex engineering challenge, made more interesting by the fact the sculpture sits on the newly completed, elegant Sackler Courtyard at the V&A. It is a privilege that as engineers for the Sackler Courtyard, we are also contributing engineering designs for Multiply.”