Himalayan birch (Betula utilis) is best known for its beautiful, peeling white bark. Its sap can be harvested to make a syrup, more savoury in taste than from maple.
Fast-growing and useful
Birch seeds are spread by wind and can easily grow on new ground, meaning they are quick to colonise open areas. They were one of the first species to spread throughout the UK after the end of the last ice age, around 11,000 years ago.
Birch wood is very hard, with a straight grain and fine texture, so it is often used to make furniture. Engineered timber is made by gluing small pieces of wood together under controlled conditions, making products which are stronger, more uniform and with improved technical properties compared to natural wood.
Flat sheets can be formed into curved structures through ‘kerfing’: cutting small holes or lines into rigid panels, making foldable structures.
Creating adaptable living spaces
Engineered timber is not limited to flat sheets. A process called kerfing uses digital manufacturing tools to cut many small holes or lines into flat, rigid panels, turning them into foldable or curved elements. These can be used to create transformable, adaptable spaces for living, giving the ability to change the way space is used daily or on a long-term basis. The panels are also designed to be disassembled and reused.
Ana Gatóo (Department of Architecture)
Before starting her research looking at birch, Ana developed structural bamboo products as well as new ways of using natural products in housing. She has also worked with international organisations on how to use natural materials and sustainable technologies in affordable housing for vulnerable communities.