Together with Guan Lee and Satoshi Isono, Clara has been running Architecture Design Studio Six (ADS6) as part of the Masters Architecture Program at the Royal College of Art. The text outlines what the studio has been focusing on during the 2013-14 academic year.
The Deindustrial Revolution
ADS6 has been critically examining how changes in the manufacturing landscape have had and will continue to have profound effect on architectures and cities. As a Studio, we have considered how disappeared, in decline or emerging industries can create connections with advancements in new technology and thus architecture.
In particular, we have been looking at how we make things. New techniques in digital manufacturing are changing how we manufacture everything, from our underwear to our houses. Architectural practice has been transformed through the emergence of new digital tools and construction technologies. But real understanding of how materials can inform this process has been largely overlooked. Through individual research, students have tested how situated modes of craft can be integrated meaningfully into ever-evolving forms of design production. Underlying our investigations have been regular fabrication workshops at Grymsdyke Farm, where students have tested their ideas through a direct and hands on response to their research. A process of going back and forth between bench-scale testing and individual site-specific enquiries.
Image_Emily Norman Glass Block Prototypes
Some students focused their investigations into how established modes of craft with inherent understanding of materiality could inform emerging fabrication technologies, and how these would contribute to an architectural language. For instance Eleanor Hill worked with the architectural restorer Shaws of Darwen to explore an ornamental language that materializes from a relationship with handcraft, manufacturing and digital mould making. Navi Matsutomi used her experience at the CNC timber housing manufacturer Kimura Kensestu in Saitama, Japan to adapt new and old timber joinery techniques for her proposal of a self build housing kit, Vitali Stanila, in the course of working with Glulam, questioned the distrust of timber as a building material in the urban context. Olivia Wright tested how specialized methods of brick fabrication and restoration could reinvigorate the Potteries industry and Stoke on Trent, while Ren Jie Huang’s explorations into large scale additive manufacturing materialized in the shape of housing units which could be integrally fabricated from recycled plastic, using 3D printing.
Another trend underlying various projects has been speculating on the future of small-scale manufacturing. Five students of ADS6 won the Wembley Place Agency Live Project design competition, held during the autumn term at the Royal College of Art in collaboration with Brent Council. The project, due to go on site this summer, will be built in collaboration with local small-scale manufacturers who have so far been excluded from much of the regeneration work in the area. As such, the structure will be a celebration of local skills and crafts.
As the current ‘Makers Movement’ marches on, large factories with cheap labour have been replaced by smaller operations with more specialized laboratories, or back to our homes as the cottage industry once did. With the jobs of the future no longer on factory floors, but held in small-scale digital workshops manned by technical specialists, we have explored what the architectural implications could be, and how education might play a pivotal role in its development. For instance Clementine Blakemore speculated on how an apprenticeship school could be embedded in the industrial estates along the canal in Alperton, while Khushboo Gupta proposed the transformation of a traditional small scale brick manufacturer in Suffolk by introducing a training programme, integrating distinct traditional hand crafting techniques with robot controlled fabrication processes. Emily Norman reflected that perhaps industrial decline in the UK, the greatest of any major nation, should not be solely measured against the latest technologies, but by adopting a new factory typology “Manufactourism”. By combining manufacturing and “pilgrimage”, she investigated alternative production models for the Nazeing Glass Works in Hertfordshire, a domestic glassworks with whom she collaborated closely throughout the year.
Central to our conversation has been the relationship between manufacturers and the communities and landscape they are part of. We have been challenging the notion that “Place matters less and less in manufacturing these days - Ideas trump geography.” by engaging in a process where ideas can be generated through an ongoing process of collaboration between materials, the digital environment, the client and place. For example Cherng Min Teong proposed that Hanson & Co, a large international aggregate conglomerate which recently acquired the dilapidated model village of Stewartby once belonging to The London Brick Company in Hertfordshire, should engage in a program of regeneration that goes beyond manicured restoration. Her scheme recommends a rethinking of the existing masterplan and an integration of 3D concrete casting techniques used in combination with the local clay, to examine how a “new model village” could emerge from the clay pits. Tom Price questioned how economics traditionally overshadow environmental implications when decommissioning major industries. His proposal outlined a phased housing programme that recycles the 260 North Sea Oil Platforms, due to be made redundant by 2050, into self-sustainable communities on the flood planes of the Thames Estuary. Skye Yuxi Sun discovered a network of subterranean tunnels linking up limestone caves beneath the Black Country in Dudley, and adapted this scarred landscape to restore a sense of identity to a forgotten byproduct of the Industrial Revolution. Ishbel Mull investigated the productive agricultural landscape, both globally connected but isolated and exploited, of the Fen Lands of Lincolnshire. A tension represented in the land itself; flat, rich and fertile but inherently unstable in its battle against water.
Image_Tom Price, Upcycling Community on the Mud Flats, Thames Estuary
As digital processes prevail in contemporary architectural practice, inspiration from nature through mathematical and abstract constructs often lacks a necessary relationship to the physical realities of making. Critically, possibilities that materials offer are overlooked, subordinating them to designs that are pre-determined in a digital environment. We have been critical of these current trends, yet have actively engaged with them. Inert, monolithic, grainless, and weightless mass is ubiquitous on our computer screens. How can we corrupt and redress this condition with site-specific and process oriented interventions? Our emphasis on making and materials has served both as a vehicle for experimentation and as a theoretical framework for speculating on architecture at the helm of our Deindustrial Revolution.