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'Making Buildings' as the craft of using materials

It is strange that, although the course of architectural history in the industrial age has been largely driven by technological concerns relating to the means of construction, very few exhibitions ever focus in depth on that dimension of architectural practice; instead, there has been a subsuming emphasis on the individual architectural celebrity-creator, on daring aesthetic form, and on sheer volume of work. Yet at the same time, as the Crafts Council has noted, there has been a perceptible growth of public interest in the real nitty-gritty of architecture, as manifested in a number of TV series about housebuilding. A programme from one of these, Grand Designs, featuring the Walter Segal Self Build Trust, is included on video in an exhibition now at London's Crafts Council.

'Making Buildings', first seen at the New Art Gallery, Walsall (AJ 8.3.01), rejects the principles of architectural authorship and volume of work, for an alternative insight embodied in a limited series of mainly three-dimensional, intensivelyworked exhibits which place materials themselves in the limelight, and make constructional techniques the stars of the show. On display are a straw and mud 'nest' by Tono Mirai, a spiral basketwork pavilion by Ushida Findlay, sail-cloth and concrete sand-bag external walling by Sarah Wigglesworth, and dense cob by Tony Eastman. The best-known architects here - for example Edward Cullinan and John Pawson - become anonymous behind the material and structural detail of the buildings featured, and mix in casually with a variety of other, non-establishment architects and makers.

In a video of work by first-year students at the Architectural Association of the annual tent-making project run by Mark Prizeman (again made for general release on television), he objects to the emphasis on theoretical issues and drawing in conventional architectural education, stressing instead the need for students to engage with the process of putting things together at a truly handson level. The Bartlett's workshop unit run by Sixteen* (makers), also features stands based on this principle, eschewing drawn work for 3D model-making in various materials. But the unit's stance also fully embraces the computer - in such a way as to demonstrate that hi-tech CAD/CAM and rapid prototyping techniques (as used in medical physics and military research) can enable the architect to re-enter a fulfilling relationship with making, which had been lost to mass production.

Curator Greg Votolato's intention is to show that the concept of 'craftsmanship' in contemporary architecture integrates a radical 'hi-tech' dimension alongside the more 'organic' back-tobasics approach generally assumed. While the display does emphasise the latter, it succeeds in highlighting a dimension of architecture that is essential to open minds to the possibilities of new, environmentally-responsive built forms in an ecologically-aware future.

'Making Buildings' runs at London's Crafts Council until 17 June before transferring to Middlesbrough, Manchester and Aberystwyth

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