Material Poetics

James Longfield and Amy Linford
Newcastle University

This Stage 3 studio asked students to engage with material as the ‘stuff’ of architecture, real, rather than rendered, the thickness, thinness, density, weight of building elements, and the effect these qualities have on the sensory experience of occupation. Through a year long iterative design process which privileges making, participants developed a consistent approach to material which is expressed in the varied elements of the final designs, from site, to programme, strategy, form, fabric and detail.

Materials qualities are central to the production of architecture, both technically, in terms of the pragmatics of construction, and through the social meanings, rituals and memories they embody. Each student explored these layers of potential through hands-on investigations into a specific material, using the process of making as a way of thinking about building detailing; a thoughtful and critical process of material assembly which emerges out of specific material properties.

By engaging with a hands-on material approach, in the form of models, fragments and prototypes, the studio explored the pedagogic potential for architects looking to develop a more embodied understanding of material properties, imbuing the process of design with an awareness of material concerns.

The first semester comprised of a series of inter-related material and spatial explorations, demanding a hands-on approach to material investigation in order to foster a close familiarity with particular material qualities and properties, as well an understanding of the practices by which they are handled, manipulated and deployed. These practices culminated in a proposal for a prototype live/work unit for an individual craft-maker who is working with your specific material practices. As well as providing a context for to develop an architectural application for a particular material practice, the layout and form of the prototype drew closely from the experiences of working with material.

In the second semester students developed the architectural applications of these material investigations into a series of crafted details that formed fragments of a larger design proposal for a community of makers, living and working together. Students were required to select an appropriate site for this building, based on the material and programmatic developments in the first semester. This expanded programme demanded an interrogation of the potential relationships between crafted and more standardised construction details and modes of production.

This critical reflection on the nature of materiality, in the context of making architecture, was supported by a close reading of relevant building precedents through a field-trip to Denmark and Sweden just before Christmas that visited Jorn Utzon's Bagsvaerd Church, St Peter's at Klippan by Sigurd Lewerentz as well as the Woodland Cemetery by Lewerentz and Gunnar Asplund.

Students: Hayley Graham, Natasha Hayes, Naomi Howell-Sivosh, Justyna Jaroszewicz, George Marr, Jade Moore, Fin Orme, Chad Seah, Clement Tang, Holly Tisson, Sun Yen Yee.

Guest Critics: Rowan Moore, Colin Ross.