23 August 2018

Studio in the Woods 2018: Making at 1:1 at Ruskin Land in the Wyre Forest

TRADA image

TRADA, the 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. 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’.


Tabitha’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 Tabitha 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 ninety-nine percent 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 sixty 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, commented: “Making is an essential skill in architecture yet we rarely physically engage in the act of building at 1:1. 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 a myriad of concepts:


Kate Darby (Kate Darby Architects) and Gianni Botsford (Gianni Botsford Architects) continued their theme of ‘constructed analysis’ regarding sunlight and daylight by mapping shadows around a group of buildings in the forest to determine strategies for the future placement of buildings.


Lee Ivett (Baxendale), Je Ahn (Studio Weave), Lynton Pepper (Architecture00) and Tim Lucas (Price and Myers) built an 18m cantilevered Belfast truss out of small section oak.


Barbara Kaucky and Susanne Tutsch (Erect Architecture) designed an enclosure that allowed sunlight onto the forest floor to encourage biodiversity.


Guan Lee (Grymsdyke Farm/Bartlett), Hannah Durham (Cullinan Studio) and Adam Holloway constructed a series of musical ‘instruments’ including a robotic piano that played a series of sounds from the woodland through a giant timber speaker, reverberating off a woven Oak sound mirror.


Meredith Bowles (Mole), Charley Brentnall (Carpenter Oak), Jack Hawker (Momentum), Carolina Vasilikou (University of Reading) and Piers Taylor (Invisible Studio) constructed a ‘room for a tree’ from curved timber with no commercial value designed to provide an alternative reading of the tree canopy.


Shin Egashira (AA School) and Zoe Berman (Studio Berman) constructed a ‘nest’ from waste timber from the forest floor designed as a place of enclosure within the woodland.


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.


TRADA’s Tabitha Binding said: “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. Attending Studio in the Woods was a real privilege and I can highly recommend taking part in 2019.”


 Photography and film: James Stephenson



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.


To take part in Studio in the Woods 2019, visit Invisible Studio

For more information on Ruskin and the Wyre Forest, visit the Guild of St George


Please contact Tabitha Binding on tbinding@trada.co.uk about similar projects or ideas that you have for design and make projects.