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Studio in the Woods

The Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA), a leading timber authority in the UK, is passionate about driving forward the understanding and use of timber and timber products in the design and construction of quality buildings. Source: Timberbiz

To start students on their lifelong journey, TRADA has produced a comprehensive suite of Learning Resources, runs annual multi-disciplinary competitions and has a University Engagement Manager, Tabitha Binding, as the first point of contact for ‘tomorrow’s timber talent’.

Ms Binding’s background in manufacturing, supply-chains and construction has given her the firm belief that hands-on design and make projects add an essential dimension beyond classroom learning. As part of her role she aims to engage with, encourage and promote more hands-on learning.

Kate Darby, a part-time lecturer at Cardiff University of Architecture, invited Ms Binding to attend Studio in the Woods 2018 to see how one group of practitioners have developed this concept.

Established in 2005, Studio in the Woods is an ongoing education and research project founded and convened by Piers Taylor (Invisible Studio) with Kate Darby (Kate Darby Architects), Meredith Bowles (Mole) and Gianni Botsford (Gianni Botsford Architects) as a vehicle to test ideas through making at 1:1.

Each year, the founders are joined by a number of practitioners and academics in leading workshops with participants over 3 or 4 days. The 2018 studio ran from 5–8 July and was hosted this year by the Wyre Community Land Trust and the Guild of Saint George at Ruskin Land in Shropshire.

The woodland is 99% oak and sits on land originally gifted to John Ruskin (1819-1900) when he established the Guild of St George in the 1870s. The founding aim of the Guild was to acquire land and – through labour, wind and water power – bring it into useful production.

The focus of the studio was the exploration of future uses for the timber of the Wyre Forest, which is predominately oak and has been unmanaged for a number of years.

Participants split into six groups, and over the three and a half days selected their building materials, conceived their designs and then constructed them.

Critical feedback on the six designs was given on the last day by Niall McLaughlin, Robert Mull, Peter Clegg and Ted Cullinan. The 60 participants from varied backgrounds included a number of university students.

Jamie Rest, who is returning to Sheffield University to study for his RIBA part 2 after his years out in practise with Architype, said: “Making is an essential skill in architecture yet we rarely physically engage in the act of building. Making by hand and at full-scale forces us to understand materials and how they come together in a way that is perhaps difficult to be taught in an academic context. By seeing making as part of the design process as opposed to ‘making the design’, projects are often enhanced as a result of the happy accidents and discoveries that are made along the way.”

Starting with oak as the raw material, the six groups explored enhancing the experience, a series of evening talks were given by Niall McLaughlin on his architectural work, Dr Rachel Dickinson on Ruskin (Principal Lecturer, Manchester Metropolitan University), Charley Brentnall on oak and traditional timber framing and Piers Taylor on the role of making in design.

“Watching the participants working directly with the timber and seeing their surprise as to how long oak trees take to grow, understanding the principals of woodland management for timber production, seeing how the logs are sawn, feeling the timbers density and weight and marvelling at its adaptability across the breadth of designs, confirms my perception that partaking in experiences like this adds a depth of understanding and a sensitivity to the use of timber as a material when they go on to using it in their own projects,” Ms Binding said. “Attending Studio in the Woods was a real privilege and I can highly recommend taking part in 2019.”

Studio in the Woods is now part of the Global Free Unit Network which has a number of ‘classrooms’ globally where power is handed back to the student and learning can take place outside of the framework of conventional academic institutions.