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An interview with Russwood Ltd

October 10 2008

An interview with Russwood Ltd
Scotlarch and timber in general are becoming a mainstream cladding material thanks to association with a lot of interesting high profile and smaller projects.  Here Architecture Scotland interviews John Russell of Russwood Ltd to delve a little deeper into a Scottish success story.

What tangible benefits have you accrued from the Gathering Space?
It’s been a very high profile project not just for Russwood but the whole Scottish design  and building scene, it’s been a great success.  Many of our customers and potential customers have seen it and remarked upon it.  Architects are always wanting to introduce new methods and materials to their building.  Now we’ve got a lot of clients because they see these big projects and say it’s ok to do this on my house.

I understand the structure sprung a leak?
I don’t think waterproofing it was ever in the overall design brief, it was a summer exhibition, you expect nice summer nights.  I suppose it’s part of the Scottish scene, you’re always standing there with your umbrella.

Why is Siberian larch cheaper than its Scottish alternative?
I would say that’s not true, unless it’s a very poor grade of Siberian larch that is used because Scotlarch certainly from our grading system is always cheaper than Siberian larch.  Sometimes Siberian larch is used for appearance, a top grade can be a cleaner and sharper looking material.

What advantages does Scotlarch cladding bring?
Embodied energy is the lowest of all timber cladding available in that it is grown processed and supplied all from Scotland.  You’ve got insurance about sustainability and where it’s come from, it’s the lowest cost of the naturally durable claddings.  You also secure Scottish employment, not a criteria from a design point of view but a fact.

Do you have much design influence?
Our input would be if the architect asks for advice it’s more appearance, if it’s a dressed finish or a sawn finish, or which particular profile might suit the look they’re trying to achieve.  We can recommend from our experience appropriate shapes for the board after it’s been machined.

Are you optimistic for the future?
Timber has got to be the future, it’s biodegradable and recyclable, the only sustainable building material.  The future has got to be timber.  The carbon it locks up suggests that timber is going to have to be used more especially if taxes are introduced on the amount of concrete and plastics being used.  We have our own sawmill and kilning facility and are presently introducing a paint facility.  We can supply the right moisture content level depending on where it’s being used.

Is it satisfying to see buildings in the flesh which you’ve had a hand in creating?
You definitely get a kick out of seeing stunning buildings that are clad in Scotlarch, there are so many landmark buildings out there now.  My wife and kids get fed up whenever I’m driving as I point out oh there’s Scotlarch on that building, there’s Scotlarch on this building.  Everywhere you go in the country whether it’s Culloden, Loch Lomond, Aviemore, North Berwick, the west coast or London’s docklands.  It’s satisfying

How has the credit crunch affected you?
Every business is being effected.  I think we’re getting into new ways of doing business now.  The right of credit is no longer a business norm and some higher risk enquiries are just going to have to be politely turned away, certainly the whole business is tightening up.

What will be the next big thing in timber?
As timber cladding becomes even more widely accepted as a normal way of putting a coat on a building there will be interest in other types of materials, not just in natural durability like we’re seeing at the moment with Scotlarch but it’ll be moving into the modified timbers because architects want guaranteed stability.  There are new technologies out there that allow architects to use timber in a way that it couldn’t have been used before.

Do you find a resistance to timber in favour of traditional stone, brick and render?
Yes, there’s resistance but that’s just typical of people who are set in their ways.  You go to Europe and look at the way they use timber over there, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  I think because we’re late into the game we can pick off the best ideas that have been tried in Europe.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
I won’t say the obvious, on a boat somewhere!  I’d like to continue to be innovative in offering timber products that we know work to architects and specialised builders and work with lots of interesting buildings and people.

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