And finally…

A (sometimes) light hearted look at the weird and wonderful world of construction

And finally… Is Scotland preparing for new wave of Scandi-style wooden homes?

makar-1_FeatureA new generation of Scandinavian-style wooden homes is being planned for Scotland as the government presses on with its plan to plant up to 26.5 million more trees every year, The Scotsman has reported.

Housing and forestry experts are due to meet in Edinburgh next week for a major conference that will look at using more home-grown timber to house the nation’s population.

The Scottish Government set out a target earlier this year plant up to 26.5m more trees by 2021 with the figure to rise to 33m by 2025.

It is hoped to fundamentally reverse the deforestation of the country, which has become the third biggest net importer of timber in the world after China and Japan.

With more trees available, a bold target to increase the use of native timber in the Scottish construction industry has also been set.

Architect Neil Sutherland, of MAKAR Construction near Inverness, is among speakers at the From Trees to Timber Homes conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh on September 27.

He said: “The whole future of housing really has to be different from the way we are doing things just now.

“Most of the northern hemisphere has a timber house tradition, from Canada and the United States to Scandinavia and through the middle of Europe, through Germany and France.

“The things that make up a house, the structural fabric – the walls and the roof – and the extra finishes such as the cladding and decking – these can all be sourced in Scotland.

“But at the moment we import around 80 per cent of the materials that we use.

“We need to reverse the trend and make a much better use of the resource and realise that Scotland is one of the best places to grow trees, even better than Scandinavia.”

Tree cover extends to only around 18 per cent of Scotland at present compared to a European average of 35 per cent.

Four species of timber dominate Scotland’s commercial forest – pines, spruce, larch and fir – Mr Sutherland said.

He added: “We can use all of these in a complimentary way, from spruce for the structure to larch for the external finishes.

“Scotland is really well placed. In Scandinavia, there are two species – pine and Norway spruce. They are jealous of our forestry culture.”

Timber is regarded for its insulating properties and its low environmental impact given the trees absorb CO2 as they grow and keep carbon locked in until it is burned or starts to decompose.

Mr Sutherland said there was a network of small companies in Scotland building timber-rich housing in workshops.

The technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated and the manufacturing environment suited to the Scottish weather, he added.

He said: “We’re in the timber age of house construction. Methods are getting more sophisticated. Most of the things that service our lives, such as washing machines, are made in workshops as we want quality and we want things that work.

“So the future of housing will also be in the workshop.

“Timber lends itself to this sort of approach as it is a dry environment.

“You are putting the house on a back of a lorry and assembling a three-bedroom house on site in three days.”

He said the average life span of a timber-built house was around 200 years with work continuing to drive down the cost of manufacturing.

Stuart Goodall chief executive of Confor, the Edinburgh-based Confederation of Forest Industries, said the process to get permission to plant commercial forestry, needed to speed up.

Grant support of £4,500 per hectare available to those planting woodland, he added.

“We are working with Fergus Ewing and the Scottish Government to speed up the process but that can still take a very long time and it does put people off.

“If you want to built a house you can get permission in two or three months. IF you want to plant an area of forestry it can take two to three years.

“If the system is right, planting woodland is a very attractive thing to do.”

While research into growing trees more quickly continues, it still takes 30 to 40 years for woodland to mature at present.

“There are plenty of people who are prepared to think on this timescale,” Mr Goodall added.

And finally… Prehistoric remains found on Scottish Water project in Ayrshire

Prehistoric remains have been uncovered during work on a £120 million water mains network upgrade between Ayrshire and Glasgow.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of an early Neolithic structure believed to have been built by the earliest farmers in Scotland around 6,000 years ago.

The find was made in countryside near Kilmarnock while Scottish Water was working on the multi-million water project.

The company and its alliance partners, Caledonia Water Alliance (CWA) and GUARD Archaeology, will now liaise with the West of Scotland Archaeology Service (WoSAS following the discovery.

Hillhouse5Kenneth Green, excavation director at GUARD Archaeology of Glasgow, said: “This is one of the most important discoveries of this type in south west Scotland in recent years.

“Heavily truncated by millennia of ploughing, only the deepest parts of some of the post-holes survived, arranged in a rectangular plan and containing sherds of early Neolithic pottery, hazelnut shell and charcoal.

“The width and depth of these post-holes indicated that they once held very large upright timber posts, suggesting that this building was once a large house, probably home to an extended family or group of families.

“Up until this time, during the earlier Mesolithic period (c. 8000-4000 BC), Scotland was inhabited by small groups of hunter gatherers, who led a nomadic lifestyle, living off the land.

“The individuals who built this Neolithic house were some of the earliest communities in Ayrshire to adopt a sedentary lifestyle, clearing areas of forest to establish farms, growing crops such as wheat and barley and raising livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.”

Andrew Grant, an environmental advisor for Scottish Water, said: “As part of the project planning, Scottish Water identified the possibility of archaeology and so factored in time for the area to be excavated.

“However, the discoveries are even more significant than we had expected and we are delighted that, with the archaeologists’ help and expertise, we have been able to uncover something of such importance.”

And finally… Planning permission granted for Scotland’s first columbarium

columbariumThe first columbarium of its kind in Scotland will be created in a Fife village.

The vault for funeral urns will be part of a woodland eco-cemetery to be constructed in Kinghorn. Only three others exist in the UK.

To be carved into the landscape on the banks of Kinghorn Loch, the columbarium was given planning consent by Fife Council alongside the Kingdom’s first eco-cemetery.

Based on an Iron Age barrow burial chamber, the project could provide an underground repository for ashes between a tranquil loch and a rural ecology centre.

A drive is now on to raise funds for the pioneering project, which will be undertaken as a not-for-profit enterprise by Kinghorn Community Land Association (KCLA).

The multi-faith cemetery and columbarium, designed by Edinburgh-based architects Simpson and Brown, will be built on part of 10 acres of land purchased on behalf of the community in 2015.

Richard Brewster, chairman of KCLA, told The Courier: “We are delighted to get planning permission for this unique place of remembrance.

“This is a real milestone for Kinghorn. The concept has really captured people’s imagination and this resulted in so much positive support from the public when the planning application was submitted.

“There is a real shortage of cemetery space locally and this will be somewhere special for people to lay loved ones to rest.

“The cemetery will develop into a natural woodland and peaceful remembrance space with a wildflower meadow and spectacular views over the Forth.

“The idea for the columbarium is based on an Iron Age barrow – a hollow mound with passages within it, with a central walled area somewhat like a broch, and a path that leads from the higher celebration platform.

“The next challenge for us will be to finalise the estimate of building costs, then to raise the money to make this vision a reality.”

And finally… Edinburgh architect serves up last dish on Great British Bake Off

Tom (left) with show host Noel Fielding

Tom (left) with show host Noel Fielding

Architect Tom Hetherington’s run as a contestant on Great British Bake Off came to an end last night after his caramel ‘hummingbird’ cake proved a disaster

Edinburgh-based Hetherington, who works for Richard Murphy Architects, failed to impress in the first caramel week the series has ever had, with his showstopper – a hummingbird cake with caramel decorations – sealing the deal for his exit.

Tom’s unravelling began with the first of three challenges, the signature bake, when he failed to complete the millionaire’s shortbread.

Instead of offering judges Prue Leith and Paul Hollywood 18 identical bakes, he ran out of time and instead presented them with two large tins of his caramel concoction.

In a round that produced a number of impressive creations, judge Hollywood described Hetherington’s effort as “gooey, underbaked and with no crumb”.

Hetherington accepted that he had had an awful week, tweeting: “I came unstuck in #CaramelWeek So sorry to leave the tent, but honoured to have been a part of it all.”

And finally… Construction worker claims to have found bones of first Pope – but not where you’d expect

st-peter-2176658_960_720An Italian construction worker, involved in routine restoration at the 1,000 year old Church of Santa Maria in Capella in Trastevere, Rome, has stumbled across what could be the bones of St. Peter.

According to The Daily Beast, in helping to repair the structural problems around the altar, the worker lifted a heavy marble slab and discovered two Roman-era pots. The inscriptions on the pots indicate they contain bone fragments of four early Christian martyrs, three early Popes (Cornelius, Callixtus, and Felix), and St. Peter himself.

The bones of the first Pope would be an important discovery, but they’re a puzzling one too: as every visitor to the Vatican knows, the bones of St. Peter are supposed to be buried directly underneath the Papal Throne in St Peter’s. So you have to wonder, are any of these relics real? Is the Vatican really built on the rock of (the bones of) St. Peter?

Peter is important, of course, as the founder of the church in Rome. For Roman Catholics he is the first Pope and the rock on which the Church is built; for Protestants he is the “Apostle to the Jews” and, along with Paul, one of the two most important figures in the early church.

Stories about his death and the burial of his remains began to emerge during the second and third centuries, including the famous narrative in which he is crucified upside down.

The relics have been dispatched to the Vatican for further research.

And finally… Walk on the wild side

AWPR-B-T Design Guide V6Special wildlife bridges, the first of their kind on a Scottish trunk road, are being constructed by Aberdeen Roads Limited on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route/Balmedie-Tipperty (AWPR/B-T) project to ensure animals can safely access areas on either side of the road once it opens to traffic.

Two dedicated wildlife bridges are being constructed over the new road at Kingcausie and Kirkhill, where there are large surrounding areas of woodland habitat. Mammal-proof fencing will guide animals towards the bridges providing them with safe crossing points which will join up habitats and connect colonies. Small trees and shrubs will also be planted on and around the bridges to provide cover for wildlife.

The decking areas of these two bridges will be covered with topsoil in varying depths, with planting to replicate the natural habitats of deer, badgers and red squirrels and encourage wildlife to use the routes.

In addition, a further bridge across the AWPR at Kirkhill, which will be used by vehicles to access local forests and remote properties, will have one half of its carriageway landscaped for wildlife and equestrian use.

Wildlife bridgeA Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “This is a good example of the AWPR/B-T contractor implementing just some of the measures which are outlined in the Environmental Statement of 2007, which will help to maintain biodiversity in the north east following construction.

“These wildlife bridges, along with 17 mammal underpasses, have specially designed planting and strategic seeding to encourage biodiversity. These are just some of the measures that are considered necessary to ensure wildlife continues to thrive in the area once the road has been built.

“These ‘green’ bridges were successfully pioneered in the Netherlands in 1988, where they are known as ecoducts.  There are also now a small number of these structures on some major routes in England.”

And finally… UK’s first student accommodation to feature a helter-skelter slide opens in Glasgow

Festival Space with slideStudent accommodation provider true has opened its doors to Glasgow’s newest development in the city’s Finnieston area.

This state-of-the-art new development offers students the coolest accommodation available – complete with a Google-inspired helter-skelter slide.

The new accommodation complex hosts 589 beds, made up of true club suites (studios) and bedrooms in shared apartments. All rooms are en suite.

Festival SpaceStudents living here can take advantage of some of the best on-site amenities available. It’s the only student accommodation in the UK to boast a giant slide as well as indoor swings, a dedicated festival space with music caravan, a cinema, a meeting hub, a library, a café, a fully-staffed gym with classes, a multi-sport all-weather pitch, extra bookable dining rooms, and separate accommodation suites for when family or friends visit.

true student ambassador Emily Christianson

true student ambassador Emily Christianson

Marc Carter, managing director at true said: “The students coming in have been very excited about, and happy with, their new accommodation, and of course the slide is a huge talking point!

“Studying at university is such an important time in life and we are committed to supporting our residents in getting the very best from the experience, starting with first-class accommodation, but more importantly extending to the inclusive, family-like community we are creating here.

“We want our residents to be happy, healthy, and successful, both during and beyond their time with us at true Glasgow West End, so we have put together a programme of events, activities, and entertainment for them which will help them get the most from their studies, social lives, and personal development.”

true Glasgow West Endtrue also plans to start work on a second site at New City Road, Glasgow, early next year, to be ready for students in September 2019.

Designed by KKA Architects and delivered by main contractor Ogilvie Construction, the development in Kelvinhaugh Street was built using an innovative modular construction method, which allowed for a much faster build with better overall sustainability and performance designed into the building. It is the first student accommodation built this way in the UK.

And finally… Engineers launch ‘sewer war’ against block of fat under East London

fatbergThames Water engineers are engaged in a three-week battle against one of the biggest fatbergs they have ever encountered.

A solidified mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing an estimated 130 tonnes is blocking a 250-metre length of Whitechapel sewers in East London, threatening an obnoxious eruption.

Thames Water said it is likely to take three weeks to dissolve the outsize fatberg.

They caution against expecting quick results as the fatberg weighs as much as 11 double-decker busses.

Thames Water’s head of waste networks Matt Rimmer said: “This fatberg is up there with the biggest we’ve ever seen. It’s a total monster and taking a lot of manpower and machinery to remove as it’s set hard.

“It’s basically like trying to break up concrete. It’s frustrating as these situations are totally avoidable and caused by fat, oil and grease being washed down sinks and wipes flushed down the loo.”

Eight workers are using high powered jet hoses to break up the blob before sucking it out into tankers for disposal at a recycling site.

And finally… Home and away

Julie Bray homeThe theft of a tiny house that later resurfaced over 750 miles away has baffled police officers in Australia.

Julie Bray built the prototype home, worth around £12,000, for exhibition to investors, but it disappeared from her business premises on Sunday.

Appealing for information from fellow Aussies through social media, she discovered it had already gone from Canberra to Queensland, where police have been alerted to keep an eye out for the diminutive dwelling.

Gympie Police Senior Sergeant Gregg Davey said it was an “unusual case”, but they had already received reports of sightings in the area.

He said: “Some of the locals noticed the tiny house and because it was so peculiar they went over and had a look at it.”

Mr Davey added: “It’s important anyone with information gets onto the Queensland Police and we’ll make sure we get a car out there.”

Ms Bray said: “It needs to come back in perfect nick, I need it for a show in five and a half weeks, and I suppose otherwise send me 20 grand. They’re not cheap to replace and I haven’t really got time to build another one before the show.”

Image provided courtesy of

And finally… Re-designed bridge increases crowd safety among 3 million Mecca pilgrims

Jamarat_Bridge_7An estimated 3 million Muslims completed their holy pilgrimage to Mecca between August 30 and September 5 as part of Hajj week, the largest annual gathering of people on Earth.

With as many as 300,000 people crossing Jamarat Bridge every hour, leading engineers and technicians needed to facilitate the safe movement of pilgrims at the site by implementing structural and technological updates while preserving the Bridge’s cultural and religious importance to visitors.

Along their journey, pilgrims crossed Jamarat Bridge multiple times in order to complete the ritual “Stoning of the Devil,” which is a key component of the pilgrimage. To ensure that crowds can move across the bridge safely, the Makkah Development Authority (MDA), which maintains the religious site, engaged people-moving products manufacturer Otis to find a solution to crowd safety challenges at the structure.

The original bridge, constructed in 1963, had only two levels, but increasing numbers of Hajj pilgrims forced the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to demolish the original structure in 2006 and start from scratch. When the original structure was built, about 300,000 Muslims made the pilgrimage, but by 2005, that number had increased sevenfold to more than 2 million. Islam continues to be the fastest growing religion in the world, and the volume of pilgrims to visit Jamarat Bridge is expected to increase exponentially.

The rapid growth in traffic to the site necessitated a large-scale expansion. However, engineers and technicians had to remain mindful of the site’s historical and religious significance while they designed technological solutions and implemented the structural upgrades. Before the upgrade, crowd density could reach up to 11-15 people per square metre at peak times according to crowd control experts. Local officials report the solutions implemented now afford 1 square metre per person.

The new bridge includes five levels, expanded ritual walls, hundreds of escalators, several elevators, two helipads, and an air conditioning system that can lower the desert temperatures inside to 29 degrees Celsius.

“With something this vital to Muslims worldwide, it is vital that outside factors do not disturb the true meaning of Hajj,” said Maged Nagib, vice president and managing director, Otis Middle East. “The re-construction of the Jamarat Bridge was an important step forward in terms of safety during the pilgrimage.”

The project saw the installation of a total of 338 people-moving solutions including a total of 308 escalators. There are 28 escalators in each of the 11 towers in the main bridge structure and 20 in the two external accesses to the bridge – the Sidki and Sabak links. The bridge is also equipped with six passenger elevators, two ambulance elevators and two helipad elevators. Each escalator can be used to transport pilgrims up or down in the structure depending on the flow of the crowd and guidance from the security force on the ground.

During the annual Hajj season, escalators, running 24 hours a day, transport as many as four million passengers daily with an estimated 12.5–15 million total rides estimated for 2017. Each pilgrim’s passage through the Jamarat Bridge is facilitated by way of at least one of the hundreds of Otis escalators moving people to the holy stone pelting ritual or helping them safely exit the bridge. To ensure that the millions visiting during Hajj move safely and smoothly through the structure, a team of approximately 200 highly skilled Otis technicians work around-the-clock monitoring and servicing the escalators and elevators. The average response time of this team during Hajj is just five minutes. The MDA has recognized Otis for its contributions to Hajj every year since 2012.

“We’re very proud to ensure the safety of pilgrims at the Jamarat Bridge,” said Fernando Condinho, managing director, Otis Saudi Arabia. “We take our responsibility very seriously with resulting 99% efficiency for our equipment here.”

The Jamarat Bridge was designed with the future in mind. If the rising number of pilgrims outgrows the Bridge, the structure can be expanded to accommodate increased capacity. If this expansion does indeed take place, the team at Otis is poised to solve the new challenges in crowd management.