'CAN DO' FIRMS
A name that seems to keep cropping up when we look for capable off-site manufacturer's is Benfield ATT, so we thought we'd investigate them a little more.
Apparently the firm was founded in 1995 to manufacture Swedish style timber frame houses for Scandia-Hus, having themselves been established to import and sell the products of their Scandinavian parent company in the early '70's.
The business had grown well, so when it faced an adverse exchange rate against the Krone, it was only logical to transfer the technology and the fabrication to the UK.
The houses were not cheap, but the superior performance standards of the Scandinavian technology employed in their design, made their sustainable, low energy, air tight characteristics very popular with those that could afford it. Thus, the little company that was formed to replicate this was, arguably, one of the very first to promote these benefits throughout the UK.
It has to be remembered that it is only since that time that even the UK Building Regulations caught on to the improvements needed. Whilse these have been progressively upgraded, they
remain woefully behind the northern European standards that the firm offered at that time. Although the gap has narrowed, it still maintains a lead having become increasingly focussed on delivering Low Energy Buildings since the recession.
Initially known as Abbac-Hus to capitalise on its technological superiority the firm soon changed its name to Advanced Timber Technologies (ATT).
Additionally it began to offer Canadian style platform frame homes, competing with other UK firms to supplement and grow business from its base of replacing imported homes.
This also meant offering 38x89 stud panels, rather than the 140 stud Scandinavian convention which are also its mainstay today. At that time UK Building Regulations enabled them to build 4 and more storey blocks of flats with such frames. In fact, in 2000 a unique demonstration building - Timber Frame 2000 (TF2000) - became one of the most significant research projects undertaken. This collaborative project involved the construction of a six storey, timber frame building - at that time the tallest of its type in the world - to show the commercial and technical benefits of using timber for medium rise buildings in the UK.
Its success encouraged greater adoption of timber frame in construction. Today, solid and composite timber buildings of 11 stories have been built with 30 and more on international drawing boards.
In 2002 ATT was acquired by a firm owned by leading environmentalist, Professor Dr. Michael Benfield, changing its name to Benfield ATT. As he explains "Applying Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase, 'The Medium is the Message', it is absolutely clear that timber buildings have symbiotic relationship with nature. What better way, then, to promote the need for environmental sustainability than designing, making and building timber buildings". To support this belief the firm was first in the sector to gain ISO quality, TRADA 'Q Mark', and FSC Chain of custody certifications, bolstering this with HRH Prince Charles' sponsored Business in the Community 'Big Tick' awards for 3 years in a row.
With this ethic flowing through its corporate veins, it was not long before Benfield ATT were involved in commercial, educational, healthcare, leisure, and industrial projects using engineered timber structures.
Besides flats and houses it gained a reputation for tackling some of the more intricate and difficult construction challenges - in timber! Examples of this are a dental and health clinic
created on a curve and balanced on a single row of piles to meet exacting ground and site conditions in Exeter, the complex curved glulam 'Armadillo Shell' roof for a visitor centre near Cardiff, a huge 30m span portal frame for a furniture factory in the wilds of Dorset, the UK's first amphibious house in Marlow, and a circular creche for an international 'cherry picker' manufacturer in Milton Keynes. As Prof.B (as he has become known) smilingly states, "The things other people shy away from are exactly what we like to get to exercise our skills, experience and capabilities. While we're very happy to prefabricate and build 'standard' houses, if it's 'different' it 'gets our juices going'".
The ethos of doing different things, often differently, has spurred the firm's development of traditional carpentry, modifying this to produce standardised feature roof trusses, 'systemised' post & beam structures, and the use of hybrid glulam 'cross laminated' timber for solid timber walls, floors and roofs of 'interesting' carbon neutral structures. As Prof.B concludes, "We like to work with people who have new ideas and who, like us, see timber as a key sustainable material in our quest to 'save the planet'. It is, after all, the only renewable building material on earth.