Arboreal (2016)

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A design for a cutting-edge timber structure inspired by nature scooped the honours – and the £3,000 top prize – in the 2016 TRADA Student Design Competition.


The winning design – dubbed ‘The Leaf’ – was created by students Laila Alawneh and Yliana Cristova from Aalborg University in Denmark. The judges were unanimous in their choice of the winner, which blended the performance characteristics of timber with a highly decorative aesthetic.


Laila and Yliana beat off strong competition from students from the University of Coventry, Wolverhampton University, University of Strathclyde and Edinburgh University, although so impressed were the judges by the standard of entries this year that they awarded not one but two ‘Highly Commended’ prizes.


This year’s NSDC – dubbed Arboreal - challenged student designers to explore the science of timber as a modern construction material for a design for an exciting Wood Centre run by tree and forestry charity, The Sylva Foundation. University of Coventry’s Piotr A Bieluga and Adam Cross, from Wolverhampton University, both picked up Highly Commended awards, while students from Edinburgh University won Best Use of British Timber for their entry, entitled Group 9. 


Run by TRADA’s University Engagement Programme, the NSDC competition is supported by generous sponsorship from Arch Timber Protection, the Timber Trade Federation and Timbmet. The total prize package was worth £5,000.


The design brief included creating a new two-storey timber structure to serve as a multi use building, housing offices, seminar space, exhibition space and a field laboratory.


In the new design students had to reflect the ethos and vision of the charity. At the same time, they needed to incorporate cutting-edge materials and technologies throughout to act as inspiration to visitors and users and create a sustainable building both with the materials they propose and long term usage of the new building.


The judges were impressed with the quality and breadth of this year’s entries. There were plenty of positive comments about the structural concepts presented, use of materials and quality of the models.


Charlie Law, from Sustainable Construction Solutions Ltd, was one of the judges. He said: I thought all of the finalist’s produced excellent entries, each of which covered the brief in the main in their own way. The winning entry, however, was one of the most striking entries, using CLT (or Glulam) to produce a church like structure that really caught the judges’ eye.


“The detail the students had gone into to find the best orientation for the natural lighting of the exhibition space, and modelling of various forms to ensure it would work structurally, was admirable. A very well worked entry, and a unanimous winner from the judges.”


Commenting on their winning entry, Laila and Yliana said: “The most challenging part [of the brief] was to provide a cutting edge timber structure that was not only high in performance but also decorative. We wanted to take the design to a height where it would challenge the plasticity of timber with a creative design solution that shows the beauty of natural forms.


“We clearly understood that this structure was required to stand out as a showcase of how flexible it is to use timber in construction, one that would break the traditional conception most people have of buildings made of timber.”

Generously sponsored by:




Ceremony and Presentations




The Winners and Shortlisted


The Winners: Laila Alawneh and Yliana Cristova, Aalborg University, Denmark.

Best use of British Timber: Kieran Watson, Surya Nimmagadda and David Hanna, University of Edinburgh.

Highly Commended: Adam Cross, University of Wolverhampton.

Highly Commended: Piotr A. Bieluga, Coventry University.

Shortlisted: Jack Nolan and Isabelle Piorkowska, Coventry University.

Shortlisted: Denitsa Veukova and Sean McQueenie, University of Strathclyde.



Student interviews