I’ve been meaning to visit Hooke Park for sometime now, lured by press features showcasing exciting new student programmes, and additions to the park’s collection of wonderfully experimental timber buildings. The opportunity to visit finally presented itself as part of the ‘Grown in Britain’ week event programme – I was signed up!
On the somewhat overcast autumn morning, I joined a group of about 15 visitors from various backgrounds to begin the tour. The estate manager Jez Ralph welcomed us with hot drinks at the café, originally designed by Richard Burton and Frei Otto. It is the oldest prototype building on the Hooke Park site, creatively using spruce roundwood thinnings in tension to form the tent like roof structure.
This was followed by a walk around the forest estate, during which Jez explained the past and future plans of the Park, diversification an the need to make economic return. We stumbled across several student projects during the walk: including a suspended tetrahedron shelter made of Douglas fir frame and a translucent membrane, and the ‘Big Fish’ shelter – a series of bent timber ribs clad with strips of larch and ash.
During al-fresco lunch back on the campus, Dougal Driver from Grown In Britain, explained the philosophy behind the GiB campaign; the promotion of sustainable management of woodlands and use of homegrown timber.
We carried on with a tour of Workshop, new Biomass Boiler housing, Westminster Lodge Dormitory, Timber Seasoning Shelter and the Big Shed. All these buildings took very different approach to design and construction using the low-grade estate timber, from lattice grids and long-span vaults, to roundwood trusses and reciprocal grid structures.
Toward the end of the day we had an opportunity to see the AA’s Design and Make students in action, working on the latest project; the Woodchip Barn. The structure, made-up of tree fork junctions, explores the natural strength of the fork joints. Suitable trees around the estate have been 3D scanned in preparation and a new structure has been 3D modelled based on the scanned data. Each fork component is fabricated using a robotic arm.
All in all it was a very inspirational day, experiencing the ‘full circle’ of timber – from growth to harvest, through milling and making. I hope to go back and explore this place more at some point in the future… (hint: next Architype forum?!)