19 June 2019
Architectural Association, London
My project is a viable strategy to build a dispersed UK industry for the reuse of structural steel. A project with rich social and cultural ambition as well as environmental.
For the last 150 years structural steel has become an increasingly standardised, globalised product which apart from a few minor exceptions does not degrade with use. It is therefore surprising that its reuse rates are dropping. Agriculture is its last vestige, where there is a resilient culture for buying and selling secondhand portal frames. The epitome of the modern farm building. Through recognising, consolidating and expanding this ‘niche’, the project highlights reclaimed structural steel as a viable opportunity. A uniquely ‘slow’ asset with significant social, economic and architectural opportunity.
A costed business model diverts usable material away from being melted down in environmentally costly and destructive ‘recycling’ processes. Geographically, materially and culturally specific, this new actor utilises outstanding economic margins to forge the disparate relationships of supply, design, material testing, stockholding and fabrication. It is the re-focusing of architecture and industry away from blind production and onto extant material. The re-connection of the architect to their supply chain.
Proposing a specific form of design practice, the project demonstrates that through proactively engaging in notions of constraint and contingency architecture can address urgent design, social and ecological questions on its own terms. In facilitating ‘reuse’ as opposed to ‘recycling’ it proposes a long overdue update of contemporary building practice. A viable model that gives design culture agency in addressing critical global challenges, and one that raises fundamental questions as to the point in which ideas of material supply and architectural culture should meet.
I am immensely grateful to all the people that have given meaning to this project. Whether they are academics, farmers, fork-lift truck drivers, steelworkers or engineers. Fellow students in Diploma 18 that have generously hoisted sections of steel up flights of stairs. Workshop assistants that have facilitated welding (with a fractured hand). Tutors that have inspired and scrutinised in equal measure. It is an enormous privilege to receive honours and I thank everyone inside and outside of the school for laying an incredible platform. This only feels like the start…
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