Knowle West residents have been busy during COVID-19 lockdown, learning to use new digital design and construction tools.
The result is “Block West”, a temporary pavilion that showcases adaptable building systems and people-friendly technology that can help communities collaborate to create the spaces, homes, and places they need.
Block West is made from a modular building system – called Block Type A – designed by Automated Architecture Labs (AUAR), a research laboratory based at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL. Block Type A uses a fixed set of Lego-like lightweight plywood building blocks that can be reconfigured into different designs over time without the need for specialised tools or expertise.
Block West was designed by local residents using a new design app developed by AUAR, following a series of online workshops during lockdown. The parts were manufactured in KWMC The Factory using our CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine, and a crew of local people assembled the blocks into the pavilion in under 10 days in September 2020.
Block West will be in the grounds of Knowle West Media Centre for one month and is open to the public for booked visits, in line with COVID-19 safety rules.
The pavilion will then be broken down into its constituent blocks and re-assembled into benches, planters, and a stage which will be distributed across the neighbourhood of Knowle West for community use.
The Block West Pavilion is part of the Making Together project, which is a collaboration between AUAR, KWMC and We Can Make Knowle West. Ten Knowle West residents aged 18 to 76 took part in online Making Together workshops over four months between April and July 2020 to learn digital construction skills and experiment with new tech and tools. The workshops were originally planned to be face-to-face but were adapted to be held online because of the COVID-19 lockdown.
By mixing technology, design, construction and community know-how, Making Together aims to support communities to build new skills so they can influence the creation of homes, workspaces and shared spaces in their area.
Learning from Making Together and the development of Block West is already being applied to We Can Make, which is using Modern Methods of Construction to design homes for micro-sites. Earlier this year, We Can Make submitted plans for the first two homes – designed by architects and families working together. Should planning permission be granted, construction will begin this Autumn.
Melissa Mean, Director of We Can Make Knowle West at Knowle West Media Centre, explains:
“Block West shows what is possible when digital design and fabrication technologies aren’t just controlled by the big developers and instead put into the hands of communities. Empowering communities with the skills and tools to build the homes, spaces and places they need is more important than ever as our hardest-hit communities try to recover from the impact of COVID-19. We can only build better if we build with communities.”
Mollie Claypool, Co-Director of Automated Architecture Labs (AUAR) adds:
“We are breaking down the barriers of privilege, money and power in the housing system by creating opportunities for communities to get hands-on with new forms of architecture and housing. This is a test space for taking a values-centered approach to collaboration with local communities using modular methods of construction and democratising technology so communities are empowered to create the homes they need better and faster.”
John Bennett, Knowle West resident and member of the Block West crew comments:
“It has been amazing to be involved with every stage of this project – from using the design app on Zoom to learning to cut the parts in KWMC The Factory to being onsite making the pavilion. I’ve never done or seen anything like this in my life. I can’t wait to do it again – we could do so much for the community: building homes, workspaces, all sorts… I’m proud to be part of Block West.”
Looking for an outdoor space to have a creative or community meeting? The Block West pavilion is available to book for free for a morning (10-1pm) or afternoon (2-5pm) slot on the following dates:
Thursday 24 September
Thursday 1 October
Thursday 8 October
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Block West is open to the public for booked visits only, with a maximum of six people in the space at any one time. You can book a visit online or by calling KWMC on 0117 903 0444.
Making Together is supported by The Transforming Construction Network Plus (N+) which is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Construction of Block West was completed by a team of 27 people aged 12 to 76 over 10 days, led by Bartlett Lecturer Mollie Claypool, Bartlett Senior Research Fellow Dr Claire McAndrew and KWMC’s Melissa Mean, with engineering provided by Manja van der Worp and Yoav Caspi of YIP Engineering.
Images by Ibolya Feher
Film by Hatty Bell