Learning from errors in a sylvan setting

I spent a glorious day on Friday at Hooke Park, the patch of forest in Dorset that was once run by furniture maker John Makepeace as the School for Woodland Industries and is now a teaching facility for the Architectural Association. To my embarrassment I had never been there. It was a joy to see the three original buildings, a workshop and a refectory designed by ABK with Frei Otto, and an accommodation building by Cullinan. All three buildings were constructed using roundwood thinnings from the park, and though the anticipated wider-scale use of this material has never taken off, the buildings are magnificent built examples of innovative thinking.

The newest building, called the Big Shed, is rightly a very different beast, like its predecessors very much of its time. It uses roundwood but for rather pragmatic reasons – the superior structural properties, and also because there were no sawing facilities on site. The first outcome of the AA’s new Design and Make MA, it uses some innovative fixing technology. This did not work first time – there were lessons learnt along the way. There can be few cases where errors in buildings are positively to be welcomed, but in this case it was very much a part of the education process.

It was an unalloyed pleasure to see work that combined intellectual exploration with practicality and real ‘hands-on’ experience. And the fact that it was an unexpectedly sunny day and the wood was filled with bluebells was no hardship either.






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