News / KNowle West

The Knowle West project putting building in the hands of communities

By ellie pipe, Friday Sep 25, 2020

Using innovative tech and what looks like flatpack furniture, a team in Knowle West are showcasing what could become a blueprint for future neighbourhood developments.

Block West, a temporary pavilion created from ‘Lego-like’ blocks, is a culmination of a four-month-long workshop series that investigated the potentials of automated technologies for designing and making homes.

On display for one month at Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC), the structure showcases adaptable building systems and people-friendly technology that project leaders believe can help communities collaborate to create the spaces, homes and places they need.

It is made from a modular building system, Block Type A, designed by Automated Architecture Labs (AUAR), a research laboratory based at The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, and designed by residents using a new design app developed by AUAR, following a series of online workshops during lockdown.

Melissa Mean, director of We Can Make Knowle West at KWMC, has led the project, alongside Bartlett lecturer Mollie Claypool and Bartlett senior research Fellow Dr Claire McAndrew, with engineering provided by Manja van der Worp and Yoav Caspi of YIP Engineering.

“Block West shows what is possible when digital design and fabrication technologies aren’t just controlled by the big developers and are instead put into the hands of communities,” says Melissa.

“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.”

Block West, a temporary pavilion created from ‘Lego-like’ blocks, is a culmination of a four-month-long workshop series

Block West is on display at Knowle West Media Centre for one month

Block Type A uses a fixed set of lightweight plywood building blocks that can be reconfigured into different designs over time without the need for specialised tools or expertise.

A crew of people in Knowle West assembled the blocks into the pavilion in less than ten days. It will be open to the public in the grounds of KWMC for one month for booked visits.

Mollie says the project is about “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-centred 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,” she said.

After it has been on display for a month, the pavilion will be broken down into its constituent blocks and re-assembled into benches, planters, and a stage which will be distributed across the Knowle West neighbourhood for community use.

“We can only build better if we build with communities” – Melissa Mean

John Bennett, a Knowle West resident and member of the Block West crew, said: “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.”

The pavilion will eventually be broken down into its constituent blocks and re-assembled into benches, planters, and a stage

The pavilion was built in less than ten days

Members of the public can book to visit Block West

It showcases adaptable building systems and tech that project leaders believe can help communities create the spaces, homes and places they need

All photos by Ibolya Feher

Film by Hatty Bell

Read more: Community-led plans for affordable, eco-friendly homes in Knowle West

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