The wonder of wood

09 Mar 2015

Top six winning entries chosen for the WAN Wood in Architecture Awards shortlist

The WAN Wood in Architecture Award is a specialist category that celebrates advances in this elegant, natural and versatile material. An impressive amount of entries came in from all over the world and the judges had a difficult task whittling down the longlist of 25 to a lean six. The judges were looking for buildings that used wood authentically, as the core structural material, and which conveyed a message about promoting the use of wood. They emphasised that they were not looking for absolute perfection. In fact, they were looking beyond the faults and rough edges to try and draw out the winning features. 


The panel:

Meredith Bowles – Founder of Mole Architects

Russell Brown – Founding Partner of HawkinsBrown

Benjamin Garcia Saxe – Founder of Benjamin Garcia Saxe

Harley Grusko – Associate as well as Project Architect for Perkins+Will in Vancouver

Mette Melandsø – Founding Partner at PIR 2, and winner of last year’s Wood in Architecture Award


Alfriston School, Beaconsfield, United Kingdom by Duggan Morris Architects is a secondary-age day and boarding school for girls with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities, between the ages of 11 and 18.  The architects were commissioned to consolidate the sports department and to replace an existing redundant swimming pool structure with a new facility. The rippling sculptural form serves as an acoustic baffle, preventing sound reverberation. A 1m high low-level glass strip circumnavigates the pool roof thus reinforcing the building component and giving the appearance of an elevated or levitating form. The judges noticed its interesting geometry, Meredith Bowles said: “The geometry is incredibly inventive,” and described it as complex, yet straightforward - just spectacular. Russell even admitted that the only criticism that he could possibly have would be purely through professional jealousy! 

A truly inspiring and uplifting design, the Autobahn Church in Wilnsdorf, Germany, designed by Schneider+Schumacher Planungsgesellschaft is a stylised silhouette of a tradition village church, except for this is no ordinary church. Nestled alongside a motorway service station the church calls the faithful and the curious to come inside, where they are surprised by a parametrically designed inner dome, which opens up to a naturally lit area around the alter, illuminated only from above through two church spires. The filigree wooden vaulting also displays a finely worked cross-ribbed structure. And consists of 66 vertical and horizontal semi-circular timber structural ribs. The judges commented that the simple white exterior of the church belied the warm and intimate ‘Baroque’ timber interior. They described it as unusual and were impressed by the complexity of the self-supporting dome structure. 

Grotto Sauna in Sans Souci, Canada by Partisan Projects is what some architecture fanatics might describe as ‘archi-porn’, a sexy and fetishistic design  - what one judge described as ‘The Fifty Shades of Gray’ of wood architecture. Skimming the shores of Lake Huron and set in a location of remote wilderness and natural beauty, the design for the sauna emerged from the architects’ deep understanding of the site and the rich natural palette of forms, hues and textures.

It is a sculpted space, a sensual experience, and a sophisticated exercise in building science. It unites cutting-edge design software and fabrication technology with old-world craftsmanship. The simple, angular form clad in rough-sawn blackened red cedar, emerges from the rocky landscape, while inside, in contrast to the hard, dark exterior, sensuously carved white cedar panels create a secret inner sanctum. The judges proclaimed it as perfection on a minute scale, and an impressive exercise in 3D modelling. They marvelled over how the timber ran seamlessly into the stone. 

Nanjing Wanjing Garden Chapel, Nanjing, China by AZL Architects is truly zen, exuding a sense of calm and well-being. The chapel, located in Wanjing Garden, along Nanjing’s riverfront, is only 200 sq m. Its wood and steel structure has a gentle exterior shape and a strong interior space, infused with power. The minimal interior is painted white and reflects a minimal simplicity. The wooden corridor forms a unique double shell of the central hall space. The inner shell is more confined, leaving natural light to filter in through slats in the roof and walls. The outer shell, composed of delicate SPF strips, serves as a filter of the view outside, implying the start of a religious spatial experience.  The judges were moved by the stark interior, and its transparency, almost an other-worldly experience. ‘”I like the exchange between night and day,” said Russell Brown. The judges praised its exquisite use of timber, its refined, poetic quality and its sophisticated engineering, declaring it a play in geometry. “We are not worthy,” lamented one of the judges, clearly moved by this design.

Naturum Kosterhavet, Ekenäs, Sweden by White Arkitekter is a large visitors’ centre on Sweden’s most westerly outpost on the island of South Koster, overlooking the recently established Kosterhavet National Park. The building houses exhibition areas, lecture theatres and offices. The architect took great care in ensuring that the building fit in well with its neighbours, small-scale coastal buildings of the fishing village of Ekenäs. The red timber-panelled façade reflects the clean lines of the boathouses and storehouses. The solid timber construction ensures low embodied energy and significantly reduces the CO2 emissions. The roof is also clad in red timber panelling, in a vernacular pitched style. By using diagonal roof ridges, the building has its own personality in relation to the older buildings around it. The judges loved the roof geometry, described it as being unfussy and modest and loved how the building juxtaposed with its surroundings, not standing out to much, but adding to the area – the best of both worlds. “Slick, with beautiful attention to detail”, is how one of the judges described this project. 

Sky Believe in Better Building, London, United Kingdom – Arup Associates. The architects have truly reached for the sky with their design, which is the UK’s tallest timber commercial building. It succeeds in demonstrating the use of precision-engineered modern timber construction systems to achieve a unique workplace. One of the facts that clearly stunned the judges was the short amount of time it took to finish the project. The project was taken from inception to site in just three months and the project was completed in one year from inception. The size of the building impressed the judges, which they described as being courageous and impressive. They liked the fact that it promoted the use of wood in large buildings and sent a sustainable message. The judges appreciated that the structure was technically difficult and complex, and that from a planning perspective it must have been a real challenge. Russell Brown stated: “It is pretty amazing for a commercial building of that size [in the UK] to have a timber structure.” And Harley Grusko added: “It uses wood to such a high degree, and with such precision.”

The World Architecture News would like to thank all who entered the competition. Congratulations to the winning six, and please stand-by for the announcement of the winner on 24 March. 

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