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dRMM’s Sadie Morgan on Architecture of Necessity 2013

Sadie Morgan sat on the jury for the third triennial, here she discusses her experiences at the wood conference in Sweden

Smalland Viserum, declared itself as the centre of the earth. It certainly didn’t feel that way after three trains, a taxi, and six hours later from Stockholm, rather like finding yourself in a Henning Larson Novel. However the unwavering positivity and self-belief of the organisers soon wore off on the 100 plus delegates from around the world. Japan, Australia and China were just a few of the countries represented there. Soon we all began to believe that if not the centre of the world, it certainly was a suburb.

Started in 2004, this was the third triennial wood conference named ‘Architecture of Necessity’. The triennial and its related competition looked to encourage and continue the debate into social and economic sustainability, alongside how to help architects and thinkers develop a landscape in which 7 billion people can survive and flourish without consuming itself in the process.

Or in translation from Swedish to English: ‘The exchange of practical as well as visionary ideas is facilitated. The housing industry market for example has a built in conservatism and needs more political vision and guidance.’

‘Lost in translation’ springs to mind. The limitations of a conference split between one day in Swedish (no translation) and one English (also no translation) meant on either day a good number of the delegates were a little lost. Punctuated with only one visual presentation, the first day proved a bit of a wash out for me.

Tyin Tegnestue Architects

Cassia Coop Training Centre in Indonesia by Tyin Tegnestue Architects

Winners of the previous award, Tyin Tegnestue Architects showed a delightful community self-build project in Uganda which built upon their previous projects in Somalia, Burma and Bangkok. More interesting was their ongoing research into rammed earth construction and their in-house testing machinery. For me the combination of rigorous testing and experimentation helped to move a technique into the 21st century - essential if we are all going to steer clear of trying to save the planet with straw bales.

This year’s competition judging preceded the conference, with more than 300 high quality international entries, all responding to the following criteria:

  • Responsible: requires insight and professional knowledge
  • Diligent: properly planned, executed and evaluated
  • Sustainable: avoids short term solutions, it is for the long term and is renewable
  • Just: counteracts social and global divisions
  • Open: invites change and dialog

The submissions were diverse in scale and programme, with four prizes awarded. One representative from each of the schemes came to present their work on the second day of the conference which was one of the highlights of the two days, and a good counterpoint to some of the more technically presented work and panel discussions.

The winning schemes

Liyuan Library, China by Li Xiaodong

Liyuan Library, China by Li Xiaodong

Liyuan Library, China by Li Xiaodong

A modest but beautifully crafted village library on the outskirts of Beijing. Naturally ventilated and clad in sticks collected from the forest it seamlessly integrates within the surroundings. It is a great local resource with a ‘bring two, take one’ book policy meaning a never ending supply of literature. With a steady stream of visitors from Beijing, locals are gaining additional income from selling food which, with such a poor community is welcome.

Watermark, UK by Fletcher Priest

Watermark/One Angel Lane, UK by Fletcher Priest Architects

Watermark/One Angel Lane, UK by Fletcher Priest Architects

This project was awarded a prize because of its outstanding sustainability credentials. It also represented a larger scale of project, dealing with difficult site conditions; ingeniously re-using existing foundations to reduce cost and waste.

Locally manufactured school, Pakistan by Roswag Architekten

Locally manufactured school, Pakistan by Roswag Architekten

Locally manufactured school, Pakistan by Roswag Architekten

This project was awarded for its ingenious use and development of local materials, cooling cob and fast-growing bamboo, as well as proactive training of local craftsmen. The resulting school for girls has a pleasant climate both summer and winter and a resilience strategy for facing earthquake risks.

Christchurch recovery plan, New Zealand by Gehl Architects

Christchurch recovery plan, New Zealand by Gehl Architects

Christchurch recovery plan, New Zealand by Gehl Architects

This project represented a compelling story of the aftermath of the earthquake of 2011, when the local government department and Gehl Architects together started the extraordinary task of collecting and collating the ideas of the local inhabitants. The ideas factory encouraged thoughts from the community of Christchurch in how to rejuvenate their city ultimately contributing to the basis of a planning policy. This project brought the debate of urban sustainability to the forefront, and helped balance the number of one-off community projects which were in danger of becoming over represented.

I then gave a whirlwind tour of dRMM’s work and research into building in timber since the first cross-laminated UK building at Kingsdale in 2006. My presentation was a discussion into our own modest efforts to bring back building in timber to a construction industry who seem to have forgotten how to. Projects ranged from the small scale conceptual ‘naked house’ first exhibited in Olso in 2006, through to the award winning Tower of Love in Blackpool opened last year.

My aim was to show that the avoidance of steel and concrete, or that the advocacy of recycling, renewable energies and low CO2 needn’t be boring, but rather that it offers dynamic design possibilities.

I hope that my lecture gave a different perspective of building sustainably in timber. One which extracted the typology from the community based to those at a larger scale, showing both high rise and big residential schemes alongside civic and domestic scale.

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