The latest in modern construction techniques comes to Stroud

The exterior view. Photo by Bill Hicks – click to enlarge

If you have travelled along Cainscross Road during the past couple of months, you may have been intrigued by the sight of a tall crane lifting elaborate pieces of timber, as if part of a giant jigsaw. At first a timber skeleton has emerged and then walls have been raised of clean, precise wood, appearing almost like flower petals. A team of skilled workmen have been assembling these shapes and gradually a building has formed before us. And what a structure, almost organic in form with complex shapes intersecting.

The Stroud Civic Society visit took place just after the last timber panels had been secured and at the invitation of the Christian Community. Our party was able to go inside the Church and see the crystallised form. We were privileged to be introduced to the building by the Architect Nick Pople and the Structural Engineer David Tasker. They explained that the choice of timber for the main construction was based on the versatility of the material, the finish and acoustic properties which will resonate sound. While the wood itself is a carbon capture and will reduce or counteract the carbon content of the building.

The interior, showing the roof from below. Photo by Bill Hicks – click to enlarge

The sensation of the design is uplifting. Twenty or more visitors, all with yellow high viz jackets and safety helmets, entered the main space. All eyes were drawn upwards by the form of the walls, which are faceted to imply pillars, defined by the intersecting planes of the walls. Above these planes branch out almost as the underside of a Gothic fan vault. The ceiling gains a dynamic as a result of the intersecting planes which intensify towards the Apse where the altar will be placed. The five-sided window openings are high up and take up the pattern of the faceting, as the window heads fit into the pitch of the roof vaults. The windows will be glazed with white glass.

This building uses a new wood building technology called Cross Laminated Timber, a form of plywood, writ large, 15cm thick or more. Each panel has been calculated and drawn in the office of the architect and checked by the engineer before the information is sent to Munich in Germany. There, the measurements are translated into panels with exact angles to intersect with its neighbour, each numbered and then shipped to Stroud. The building team assembling them come from Ireland from where they travel to sites wherever this system is to be used. The degree of precision is astonishing. Most joint lines and junctions are only a few millimetres wide. All the fixings are invisible, being on the outer shell. It has been a daunting task for the builders because they are handling the internal finished surface at the structural stage, where conventional construction would be overlaid with finishes such as plaster. All the electrical sockets and lighting have to be pre-determined and fed from the back of the structure. The chapel is tall and is surrounded by a range of single storey rooms which will have sedum roofs. So from the road, the chapel will appear to stand above the surrounding podium. The exterior will reflect the shape of the interior. The roof will have cedar shingles and the exterior walls covered with an insulation and render.

The Civic Society and those who attended the site visit are grateful to the Christian Community for allowing us this glimpse of the building. This was a special moment in time just before the finishing stages when the bones beneath the skin are visible.

Particular thanks to Paul Abel and Tim Alloway for the site arrangements. We look forward to visiting the completed building which is to be consecrated in October. We are sure that it will add to the architectural interest of Stroud.

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