AA Design + Make Masters study at the Architectural Association Hooke Park

Background & Aims

Background

The Design & Make programme is based at Hooke Park, a 350-acre working forest in west Dorset that contains a small educational campus. This campus includes a including a wood workshop and design studio, and was developed in the 1980s as part of the Parnham furniture school, with the ambition of exploring new ways of using native timber. Hooke Park became part of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 2003. The Design & Make programme was conceived as part of the Strategic Plan for Hooke Park, developed by Andrew Freear (of the Rural Studio programme at Auburn University, Alabama) and Elena Bartel in 2007. They proposed a postgraduate design-build programme to “test the premise that the academic world can rigorously explore where the professional world cannot”.

The opportunity for this testing is provided by the AA’s building development programme for the Hooke Park campus. The outline planning approval of this development, conditionally approved in Spring 2010, provides the masterplan framework within which Design & Make buildings will be realised. On a yearly cycle, the Design & Make students will construct components of this development plan as prototype buildings. These buildings will include new workshop and teaching facilities and accommodation for students and tutors. Funding for the initial phases of this building work is in place.

Programme Aims

The core aspiration of the programme is to close the gap between design and making in architectural education. This is achieved by placing students in a learning environment that physically combines design studio, workshop and building site; by providing the infrastructural support to enable building projects to be produced and realised; and by teaching the skills and theory of an approach to architecture that integrates design and making. In terms of output, the ambition of Design & Make is that through these mechanisms students will develop new architectural responses that are both culturally and technically viable, in societal and ecological terms.

Design & Make aims to complement the AA’s existing MArch programmes: the Design Research Laboratory, Emergent Technologies and Design, and Sustainable Environmental Design. It shares aspects of its intellectual agenda with each of them, through its interest in the technologies of design and production and an imperative towards sustainable solutions. By collaborating with them, and by adding the ability to realise projects through its focus on learning by making, the Design & Make programme presents a unique opportunity to extend those agendas into the built realm.

Students of Design & Make are expected to engage intensely in this opportunity, and to become active collaborators and co-authors in the development of Hooke Park. They are likely to be at a stage in their development as architects where the prospects for realising design in this way would not be found in practice. The learning outcomes of the course are intended to provide students with a set of advanced knowledge and skills that can only be acquired in a post-graduate academic design-make environment. Acquiring these – both as formal knowledge and the less tangible ‘know-how’ gained by hands-on making – should uniquely equip students for their future practice as architects. The programme aims to recruit students who want to form an approach to professional design practice that is engaged in making.

Programme Agenda: Learning by making

Design & Make aims toward the reconciliation of designing and making in architecture. It is a response to the premise that architects have become increasingly separated from the cultures of making, despite the need to understand and control the material production of their buildings. Historically, as architecture developed as a profession, its training became formalised and so intellectually abstracted from the building site (the site that had, previously, been the master-builder’s hands-on learning environment). Without the real-world anchor of construction, architectural education has had to find other mechanisms for imparting the knowledge and intuition that hands-on material engagement provides.

These mechanisms – the material experimentation, model-making and prototyping that goes on in architecture schools – have become very rich (especially with new prototyping technologies) and are fundamental to the development of the student architect. Design & Make aims to extend that development by providing, at post-graduate level, the experience of actual construction: exposure to the scale and mass of full-scale building and the implications of a real site and environmental context. It proposes that design relies on intuitive understandings of the physical world that can only be developed through tactile engagement within it. This philosophy of ‘learning by making’ runs through the programme. All design works, including the first-term studio projects, are tested through physical realisation. Students are encouraged to use the adjacent wood-working workshop, and the surrounding woodland, to prototype and analyse ideas at any point as they design.

Design & Make also embraces twenty-first century developments in the technologies of fabrication, through recognition that they provide new mechanisms for the direct control of architectural production. The opportunities presented by the digital medium, in removing the ‘information gap’ that separated the architect from manufacture, will be explored and exploited.  The existing CNC machining facilities will be extended as the Hooke Park facilities grow, with the intent that this technologies are integrated in a rich approach to making. Similarly Design and Make aims to explore new approaches to building materials, driven by the imperative of sustainability, that move away conventions of the building industry and into forms that architects can operate with more freely.

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