Lost and Found – construction as education

This long running studio blurs the boundaries between making and designing by using recycled materials to co-create new community assets.

Built from circumstance

A handmade building in a landscape in Coed Hills

Everywhere in nature we see that someone’s waste is someone else’s delight.  But in the construction industry this isn’t the case. In the UK alone 100 million tonnes of ‘waste’ from building sites ends up in landfill every year*.

What if you approach the construction site like a jackdaw?  What if you can take advantage of this output and create something useful?

These projects operate on three orders of usefulness:

First, they must create a genuinely useful space for a real client.
Second, they must (re-)use discarded materials.
Third, the process is educational for the people designing and making them.

Built on faith

For each project to meet these criteria the design has to happen as part of the process of gathering materials. This means no blueprints drawn up in advance, we co-create them.  In a way it is always like building a very large model, you have an idea about what you’d like to achieve, but you only work out what it is as you get there.

This approach is often daunting to students in the first stages. But once they’ve got a tool in their hands the micro decisions that seem intuitive – broken glass could transform into a stained glass window – start to add up.  The challenge is making the buildings more than the sum of these parts. This is where the ‘architecture’ comes in – elevating the process above ‘scrapheap challenge’ into a thoughtful and reflective process.

For the participants – be they students in their first years of study, or community members who’ve never wielded a circular saw – this is the opportunity to be the designer / maker.  Watching several years of students go through these workshops it is easy to see the knowledge that has been instilled. They develop a fluency in talking to clients and peers, and a natural ability to take initiative and make things happen.

Standing in the rain in west Wales, surrounded by offcuts of timber, a hammer and a box of nails might not sound like the perfect educational environment, but there are few other places where you get to discover as much about building and architecture as you do yourself and your peers.