It took only a few hours, at the beginning of February, for the bookings for the bus tour “Mir paken Holz un” (“We touch wood”) to be sold out. This is proof of the ever-growing enthusiasm for this initiative from the Luxembourg Wood Cluster, which makes it possible, in concrete terms, to touch wood while encountering the reality of innovative wood construction projects.
Wednesday 26 February’s trip brought together around fifty wood professionals, as well as students from the BTS Bois de WiItz. The bus tour, which started at the Naturzenter of the Administration of Nature and Forests in Senningerberg, first took the delegation to the Nonnewisen district in Esch-sur-Alzette.
There, the Fonds du Logement (Housing Fund), in association with the municipality, is developing a major residential programme involving some 750 homes, many of which are housed in timber-framed buildings. “Out of 16 projects developed in this district, seven have a timber component,” explained Paulo Fraga, operations manager at the Fonds du Logement.
The visit concerned, in particular, two housing complexes included in the global project “Wunnen am Park”. The first is Lot 5N, comprising 32 detached houses and 24 apartments (all sold), as well as a commercial area. “Wood was not the cheapest in the preliminary studies we did, but it is obviously the most environmentally friendly and in an approach that is above all environmental, this obviously played a role,” explained Carlos Duarté, project manager at m3 Architecture, in charge of this lot. “We therefore opted for a wooden framework and solid wood adjoining panels”.
The second housing complex is Lot 6Sb1, with nine semi-detached houses built in strips, designed by hsa – Heisbourg Strotz Architects. In contrast to the other lot, the presence of wood is particularly visible, as all the facades are made of continuous wooden cladding, with slats of two different widths to give a certain dynamic to the whole structure.
The visit continued a little further east, in Bettembourg, where the brand new training hall of the Competence Centres for Building Engineering (GTB) and Completion (PAR) is located. This training body, the result of a partnership between the Chamber of Trades, the Federation of Craftsmen, the Building Sector Training Institute and Myenergy) has had two huge wooden halls built for its own needs, without any furniture.
Designed by WW+ architektur + management and architecture & urbanism 21 yvore schiltz et associés, their construction began in May 2019 and is nearing completion. “There are no frills or gadgets,” explained Marc Ant, Managing Director of the Competence Centre. “We have put all the materials and facilities needed for each training course in outdoor containers. All you have to do is bring them into the hall during the training and then take them out. This allows optimal modularity, allowing up to eight training sessions to be held in parallel. We are proud of these buildings, which are also a visit card for the craft industry.”
For the day-to-day monitoring of this project, a concept of “Bauteam” (construction team) was developed, allowing permanent and efficient communication with architects and engineers, without the need for countless and interminable e-mails. “We can be just as innovative in terms of organisation,” says Ant.
In three years of operation, the Competence Centres have trained some 15,000 people. “That’s 10 times more than we envisaged in the initial business plan,” says Marc Ant.
Across the street, on the same Krakelshaff site in Bettemburg, stands the Innovation Living Lab of Neobuild, the technological innovation centre of the sustainable construction sector. “We work in the real world: we test on site and in the field,” explains Boris Solecki, Innovation Project Manager at Neobuild.
This innovation cluster plays a role as an observatory of the sustainable construction market; as a skills aggregator; as a tailor-made support for the analysis, formulation and launch of innovation projects and also as a facilitator.
Its Innovation Center is a 2,200 m2 zero-energy building in which full-scale tests are numerous. Start-ups can, by this means, test their inventions “in real life”, such as, recently, Leko and its construction system based on cross-jointed wooden elements assembled by spikes.
Or, as is currently the case, the Belgian company Mods (Modular Wood System), which installed a wall designed with modular wooden elements, assembled by simple bolting, without glue or screws, allowing optimum flexibility of implementation, in a system at the crossroads of Lego, Meccano and other Kapla . Infinitely reusable, highly modular, durable, easy to (un)assemble: that’s what this concept is all about.
“We have developed square modules with 50 cm sides and 10 cm thickness, because such a configuration basically covers 75% of the needs generally expressed in terms of walls,” explains Julien De Visscher, the product designer. “The uses are multiple and can be suitable for ephemeral events, pop-up blinds, office partitions… We can even design leased partitions, which can be easily dismantled after a few years, rather than imagining pure and simple destruction”.
And to plan, for 2021, the release of a mobile app’ allowing to pre-configure the desired volumes.
“The question of modularity is essential in the construction sector, as the function of the building is changing very rapidly”, notes Philippe Genot, manager of the Luxembourg Wood Cluster. “The system developed by Mods is both simple and complex: you can imagine that behind every hole in the modules there is a lot of thought. And beyond this system lies all the thinking around Industry 4.0 and the need to improve the efficiency of the production of such parts, but also of the pre-manufacturing of final products. And it’s very interesting that this can be done with a start-up here!”
Originally, there were three prefabricated wooden modules used as a temporary restaurant for two years in the Swiss Alps at an altitude of 2,300 metres. The modules were dismantled and flown back down to the plain by helicopter, then lightly “refreshed” (cladding and sanitary facilities) and transported by road to the Grand Duchy, where they were reassembled in three days to make a functional office: a first day to prepare the pilings for the foundations, a second day for the actual installation and a final day for finishing work.
“We have a permit for four years. We will then adapt these modules and reuse them in another context,” explains Thomas Kruppa, CEO of FAT Architects. “We see great potential in the development of such a modular timber construction: with a lot of work in the prefabrication in the workshop, followed by very short lead times for transport and assembly. In Switzerland, Austria and, in some cases, Germany, the concept of modular timber construction has already been successfully applied for some time in office and hotel construction.”
This is just one example of the enormous potential of the material wood in the development of innovative building concepts. “The role of wood in circular construction is essential and this market has been developing very strongly in recent years. Sharing experience is essential, as is ‘networking’ between professionals. With these inspiring visits, we wanted to stimulate this exchange. You can’t imagine doing it better than in the field and by ‘touching wood’, of course,” concludes Philippe Genot.