London-based Material Culture Workshops is serious about the studio’s commitment to sustainable architecture. Founded in 2019 by Samar Islam, Paloma Gormley and George Masood, the young practice is pioneering the way to make meaningful progress towards a post-carbon environment. Its USP? Offering careful thought to architectural material selection and construction methods, and emphasizing low intensity, locally sourced, natural alternatives, drawing on the context of each project.
‘Construction and maintenance currently account for more than 40 per cent of the UK’s total carbon emissions. 11 percent of industrial carbon emissions come from manufacturing materials. Current housing models rely heavily on high-strength materials with short lifespans, largely manufactured overseas. If we want to halt the progression of environmental degradation, we need to radically rethink the logic of our current construction methods, the materials we use, and the way we grow. In doing so we may need to recover some forgotten technologies and develop entirely new forms of architectural language,’ says the team.
Introducing the Material Culture Workshop Series
The trio’s new venture is a series of workshops, conceived in collaboration with author and creator Caitlin McNamara, that challenge existing construction practices. This is a great example of their enthusiastic yet practical approach and addresses the lack of options in the sector in working towards a low carbon environment.
‘When I was learning to build, I struggled to find the kind of learning I wanted,’ says McNamara, who leads the Material Culture Project. ‘Construction colleges were affordable, easy to access and taught me practical plastering skills but I was often the only woman in the room and there was very little natural or low carbon content on the curriculum. Courses run by heritage organizations specialized in the materials I wanted to learn but were often expensive and in places that were difficult to access.’
He met Material Culture in 2022 working with lime-plaster and they began to develop a new educational program together in both theory and practice of working with natural and low carbon building materials. The result is the Material Cultures Building Workshop, a 100-year-old traditional brickworks (and the first UK brickmaker to use biomass to dry bricks).
The courses are taught by experts (50 per cent of whom are women) and will include live-build elements on structures designed and built in 2019 over seven weeks as part of the Central Saint Martins March programme. They are also designed to be highly inclusive, addressing people of all abilities and backgrounds – whether they are seasoned professionals or brand new. Additionally, 25% tickets are subsidized.
The first workshops, released in April 2023, focus on building with hemp and lime; More to follow in May, exploring clay and straw. Meanwhile, more dates for materials like lime rendering, lime wash and clay rendering are yet to be announced.
‘The interest and demand for our workshop was overwhelming so it turns out other people wanted it too,’ says McNamara. ‘Our hope is that these workshops will spark open opportunities to create new forms of culture in the construction industry. Climate change is indiscriminate and universal so educational opportunities to prepare for and mitigate its effects must be available to all.’
Building workshops on material culture can be booked through materialcultures.org (opens in new tab)