Fri 16 Sep


Material Cultures, London

Constructive Land

Material Cultures is a not-for-profit organisation which brings together design, research and action towards a post carbon built environment. We work at the intersection of architectural design, engineering, systems thinking, digital technologies and material science. We seek to share our experience of establishing ourselves as an experimental studio which operates across practice and academia. We will do this through expanding on our work across newbuild developments, research into the viability of bioregional manufacturing and expanding on how we build experimental, collaborative design and build structures, with a particular focus on our ongoing research project – Constructive Land.  

The British landscape is subject to a multitude of pressures, many of which, such as farming and forestry, are considered to be in direct conflict with one another. Failed economic initiatives and agricultural policies have fuelled environmental degradation, growing levels of social inequity, and competing views of the land and its use. The future of a decarbonised built environment now depends on previously disconnected industries and seemingly conflicting agendas working together to facilitate systemic change. 
Developing the strategies and technology to enable the supply and production of biobased construction materials requires the reimagining of land use at scale. Our research project Constructive Land speculates on a future land use model that is no longer confined to a risk averse market determined by the fossil fuel economy. It speculates on a mosaic alternative to landscape management in which arable land is woven alongside short rotation forestry, coppice, and shelterbelts of broadleaved species. With this vision in mind, we will re-evaluate and challenge the standardization-driven forms of construction timber through the production of prototypical and experimental structures built in the summer of 2022; drawing from the materials of our woodlands today and speculating on the materials which could be cultivated from our landscapes in the decades to come. 
By questioning the nature of a ‘productive’ woodland, we are investigating the different benefits and outcomes of woodland management, from climate resilience to increased biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Productive woodlands have the potential to source innovative new low-embodied carbon materials which could transform the built environment, whilst also building regional supply chains across the country. The recalibration of our landscapes away from extractive practices towards a new model of regenerative land management that fosters regenerative resources, provides an exciting opportunity for construction innovation and offers to reconcile the tensions between land use, land economy and the need for new housing. 
Drawing on this ongoing research conducted as the recipients of the SOM European Research Prize 2021 alongside MArch students at the University of the Arts London this work will also explore the regulatory, industrial and cultural limitations of change within the built environment, forestry and farming today, and looks to connect these disparate industries through dialogue. The act of building itself serves as a teaching tool: the structures will be developed and designed collaboratively with our 30 MArch students over a 7 week period this summer. Our research will demonstrate the opportunities that are emerging from a more ecological approach to the production of materials we use in the built environment, and speculate on the profound impact of these on our future practices.

Material Cultures Foto

© Material Reform, MC x Jess Gough

Material Cultures Drawing

© Connie Beauchamp

Summer Islam

Summer Islam is a founding director of Material Cultures, a not-for-profit organization which brings together design, research and action towards a post-carbon built environment. Summer co-runs “Construction in Detail” on the MArch course in the Spatial Studies department at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London. Her work is focused on the holistic integration of systems thinking, construction technologies, and design. She has also taught at the Bartlett, University College London, the London Metropolitan University, the Architectural Association, and the University of Cambridge. She was previously an Associate at award-winning design practice 6a architects, and co-founded design practice Studio Abroad with George Massoud in 2014.