28 August 2019

Studio in the Woods 2019: Student blog

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Earlier this year TRADA collaborated with Scottish Forestry and sponsored places at a ‘making’ workshop in the woodland of Wyre Forest. Convened annually by Piers Taylor with Kate Darby, Meredith Bowles and Gianni Botsford, Studio in the Woods encourages learning outside the framework of conventional academic institutions and tests ideas through making at 1:1 scale. TRADA is passionate about upskilling and empowering our next generation of timber professionals – so the decision to sponsor three student and one lecturer space was an easy one.


The workshop, which ran 11–14 July, was attended by four lucky individuals who won their places by sharing their passion for timber.


TRADA’s Tabitha Binding said: ‘Participation in 1:1 scale design and make projects gives students experience of actual materials in real life situations – not just on paper – which leads to a holistic understanding of construction, and a greater respect for timber and its properties.’


Scottish Forestry is the Scottish Government agency responsible for forestry policy, support and regulation. Andy Leitch, Timber Development Policy Advisor, added: 'With the objective of increasing the contribution of forests and woodlands to Scotland’s sustainable and inclusive economic growth, we are pleased to support the furthering of knowledge amongst our future construction professionals and those that teach them.'



Joe Tompkins, who studied Structural Engineering at the University of Cambridge, was one of our lucky winners. Below he gives us just a taste of his experience in the Wyre Forest.


Studio in the Woods 2019 took place only three weeks after I graduated from my Structural Engineering degree at Cambridge. As I begin to look beyond the world of formal education into trying to find a job, SITW has provided a fantastic launch pad, giving me a whole new feeling of energy, drive and, most importantly, optimism about what life in the construction industry could be like.


There were several aspects to SITW that I found particularly brilliant. Firstly, the simple opportunity to meet a wide array of new people and to hear their opinions and ideas on where working as an architect or engineer might take you. The diversity in background was amazing: our team included architects, engineers, carpenters, IT developers, economists, but all with a shared passion and interest in design, making and materials. The group leaders and speakers were also consistently brilliant, and I had several fascinating conversations hearing about these people’s lives.


This diversity within our group also provided a valuable opportunity for cross-disciplinary working. There were various pockets of expertise and knowledge within the group, and the process of teasing out that knowledge and allowing people to find their natural positions of leadership was fascinating.


The most valuable aspect of SITW for me was the nature of the task in terms of the combination of designing and making. The chance to work in a practical, hands-on manner was a great counterpoint to my university experience as an engineer, which was hugely dominated by theory and bookwork. It felt like whole new educational worlds were being opened up, something from which engineering educational institutes should definitely learn from: design as a chance to learn about the theory which informs it; making as a chance to learn about the influence of design decisions; and hands-on use of materials as a chance to learn about making and design.


Overall, SITW was a deeply valuable and inspiring experience which was inspiring, educational and, last but not least, a lot of fun. I’m extremely grateful to TRADA for the opportunity to attend. Not only would I not have heard about the event, but also it would simply not have been financially possible for me without their support.


‘It is difficult to quantify what I got out of this weekend, since as well as the knowledge and many practical skills passed on by the group leaders, there was also a sense that everyone in the group contributed equally to our success.’ Ruth Cullen is currently studying Engineering with Architecture at the University of Liverpool.



‘As summarised perfectly by a fellow team member on the concluding day, the learning process has been a mutual one for all, participants and group leaders alike. The process of making sparked conversations and formed relationships that would not have been possible in everyday life.’ Tom Cunningham studied Architecture at the University of Sheffield.



‘The Studio in the Wood experience was completely rejuvenating. Meeting new people, spending time in the woods, using your hands and working with wood – all of which reaffirms why I like making stuff. It was serendipitous too, since the project group I joined was never on my personal radar and it turned out to be an extremely rewarding experience with many highlights. If there was one principal thing to learn from Studio in the Woods, it is that the site and environment should be major factors in determining what can be created and how it is created – and that sensitivity to the land and context should always be at the forefront of the design ideas. The Ruskin ideals live on through this project and I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to be part of it.’ Paul Smith is an Architectural Technology lecturer at the University of Coventry.