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'Kit' architecture and the democratisation of placemaking

Event video
Fri 23 Apr 2021, 1–1.45pm

What if you could build your own home and community spaces from a kit of parts and a phone app? Why should you want to and how does it matter?

In this online lunch talk Mollie Claypool, co-director at Automated Architecture (AUAR) Labs, and Nick Newman, director at Studio Bark & U-Build, bring light to the social and environmental significance of self-build architecture. The event is chaired by Vanessa Norwood, creative director at the Building Centre. 

To set the scene, we presented a short film about our House Block takeover in Clapton, Hackney. We invited Nick Newman to use AUAR Lab's design App and respond to designs created by participants in Waltham Forest Council's Future Creatives Programme. Together on site they then adapted their designs and built them alongside the Building Centre team.


The Bartlett School of Architecture: ‘Kit’ architecture and the democratisation of placemaking from Bartlett School of Architecture on Vimeo.


About the speakers

Through their respective practices, Mollie Claypool and Nick Newman provide individuals with the tools to design and build their own spaces.

Studio Bark are award-winnings architects who in 2016 launched U-Build, a flat-packed kit designed to transform the way people think about buildings by enabling individuals and communities to self-build. The U-Build System is conceived with the circular economy in mind, by making the kit fully demountable and recyclable. You may have seen The System featured on Channel 4's Grand Designs: The Street series in the form of Box House.

AUAR (pronounced ‘our’) is a fast-growing multi-faceted design and technology studio based in the UK, working holistically across technology, product design and research. At the core of AUAR Labs' mission is the ethical decentralisation of automation within the built environment. The team develops novel approaches and technologies, from modular building systems to XR experiences to design production software.


What is House Block in Clapton?

House Block, by AUAR Labs, explores what our environment could look like if our homes were not static structures and instead could evolve over time. What if there was no set design, but an ecology of elements that constantly reorganise through automation? Could we even dare to think of a future that democratises access to building systems – one that alleviates the housing crisis and supports more equitable labour practices threatened by ever increasing automation?

House Block is designed and built using a discrete housing system — a kit of parts (analogous to lego), known as Block Type A. Each block is milled from a single sheet of plywood using CNC machines and assembled by hand, then post-tensioned. These are considered to be ‘discrete’ because the blocks are not fixed, instead offering the opportunity to be assembled, dismantled, reconfigured and reassembled over and over again.

Located on the site of a former playground in Clapton this two-storey prototype demonstrates what could be achieved if we were to think about participatory approaches to housing where local communities make use of digital modes of production. The Building Centre's takeover is one of four, who together provide live demonstrations of this potential, as the blocks morph over time into configurations that support different needs, provocations and conversations.

An associated public programme of talks, tours, performances and installations will be taking place until 16 May, bringing new perspectives to issues around local housing needs, applications of technology and governance — that move between near-future solutions and more speculative visions.

House Block is delivered in partnership with Hackney Council as a part of an exploration of digital approaches to community-led developments. The project is supported by UCL Trellis: Community Partnership Building Events, EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account Follow-On Funding, UCL East Community Engagement Seed Fund, UCL Innovation & Enterprise HEIF Funding,  The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and in-kind support from New City College (NCC).

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