When you really enjoy doing something it’s probably a good idea to figure out why.
In the course of a career there are those few projects and people who really stand out.
For me it’s been the entrepreneurial stuff that has made the greatest impression. When I set up in business for myself I wanted to hunt out more of those people and businesses that have a compulsion to make change.
One entrepreneur had a little faith to give me a shot. The work has been a joy and still is. In the process I’ve learned much about making spaces and places for people.
Our work mainly involves taking vernacular buildings and modifying them for new uses. We also build shelters and flexible structures to facilitate the holiday camp sites and lettings that make up the fforest business.
It’s a unique project for the following reasons. The client owns the buildings, commissions the projects, is deeply involved in the design and employs all the construction staff. Everybody involved works under one roof. We design, we manage, and we build.
I love what we are producing. The building design people (that would be three of us) have a shared passion for vernacular buildings and modern contemporary architecture. Most of the work involves an interweaving of the two. The real joy though comes through the process we use to get things done.
Most of time we are free from the painful processes that the architectural profession that others have devised in order to get things built. Instead we work in sketches and design intent drawings and where possible communicate directly with site thereby shortcutting huge amounts of drawing work. We are returning to a much more vernacular process and it feels like how building design should be done. Its direct, immediate and flexible. We are not mired in procedure and meetings. We are also not obsessed with minute design details. The buildings still look great, but they are also pragmatic spaces simply and honestly put together.
The projects we do take time. The drip-drip of available funding constricts what is possible at one go. This is a really good thing if you need flexible building design, the holy grail of the start-up business. The design process is malleable because we haven’t invested massive time to get to a particular point. It can develop and change without too much cost. We don’t commit to a solution too early. Many scenarios are kept in mind until the last possible moment.
Because our work is a fluid thing, we can adapt to opportunities or issues quickly. What if the funding falls through? What if the needs of the business change? Our work process feels ‘alive’ and so does the finished result. I no longer see my work as having an end. There is no ultimate solution. This is far from the design process as still taught in college, and subscribed to by many an emerging graduate and experienced professionals.
Because we have returned to the same spaces year after year to make modifications and adapt things we can witness what solutions worked and which didn’t. This sort of process teaches a designer to be humble. Its a hard thing to face when something carefully thought through (or so it seemed) just didn’t work. This is cyclical design. You create, build, monitor, evaluate and modify.
This is building as a practical endeavour. Its design that prioritises actual use. We are not out to impress our designer peers, or mold ourselves a stylish portfolio of artfully crafted but ultimately useless spaces.
The conditions I’ve described don’t work in the real world. Commercial building design truncates and interrupts a truly cyclical form of design process. We lose the ability to engage in a process that ideally would evolve. The desire to nail down uncertainty with the contract means real life can’t wriggle free.
I do acknowledge the need for legal agreement. I’m just wondering whether there’s space to allow for the human trait of change when we build. The chance to tweak as we go along. A way to bring buildings to life and make them more useful.
Fforest is a small but rapidly growing outdoor pursuits and holiday accommodation business based in Cardigan, West Wales. James lynch is an entrepreneur rediscovering the lost ideas of a more complete form of building design. Sadly his approach is far too unique.