A bespoke Chipping Norton company is at the forefront of a revolution in building design, offering innovative timber frames constructed entirely in its own factory.
Sylva has won accolades, with a recent project appearing this year on George Clarke’s popular TV show ‘Amazing Spaces’. Its team engineered and designed the massive timber frame for an apartment block close to London’s Tower Bridge, which features an electronic skylight and a church on the ground floor.
Development Director Craig Strachan (above left) founded the original consultancy with Stuart Edwards in 2010, providing engineering, design and assembly for other people’s projects.
But the local lads were determined to blend big company benefits with small company flexibility. This inspired them to buy a factory producing an entire building frame – walls, floors and roof – ready to be assembled on site in just days for a typical house.
“Fabricating the frame in factory conditions means that we’re not subject to the ravages of the English weather, and other site conditions; it’s also safer and it minimises waste”, Craig told ECN. “It’s much quicker than traditional methods of building, and that’s where the cost savings come from.”
So Sylva, specialising in tailored Design and Build, is leading the charge in Britain’s battle to find realistic solutions for new generations keen to own their own home.
“There needs to be a major revolution in the UK construction industry to solve the housing crisis,” George Clarke says. “And high-quality, factory-built homes have a major role to play.”
Green and sustainable solutions are also high on the company agenda, with all builds maximising energy efficiency. Craig says timber products are sourced from managed forests, and hemp fibre insulation replaces commonly used petrochemical products.
“Timber is the only renewable mainstream construction material, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide as it grows. By using timber from sustainable sources we are both locking away carbon for the life of the building and supporting forest replanting to continue the cycle.”
Building a Dream
Currently, the team at Sylva require customers to source the land and provide a basic concept of the house they want. They pledge to work closely with clients to develop the design, assess costs, choose the right building method, and guide the project through to completion.
Craig’s goal, however, is to develop properties from start to finish, including the purchase of land. Throughout the building journey, clients would have far more input and control than allowed by most developers.
“We like to act as if each day is a fresh start and an opportunity for learning”, Craig said. “We have no pretensions that we have the best way of doing things or that we know better than our customers.”
Act, Engage and Innovate is the Sylva company motto, finding practical shape in the stunning Riverside development (right) in Stratford-Upon-Avon. A nautically-inspired design incorporating sails and portholes, the breathtaking timber venue has helped put Sylva firmly on the design map.
“Although I’m passionate about self build, I think our most interesting project has been the Riverside clubhouse”, Craig said. “This was constructed with a logshell system manufactured offsite in Russia and then shipped across. Our most interesting challenge was converting Russian engineering to be compliant with UK Building Regulations!”
Sylva has 16 employees and about a dozen projects on the go, ranging from luxury holiday homes to a site of 21 affordable, self-build units in Bicester.