Developing an architectural language that responds to the need for a ‘regenerative’ building life cycle

At the Danish conference Biobased Building Materials on the 21 – 22 August you can hear an interesting presentation with Matthew Barnett Howland, director of R&D at CSK Architects and Olive Howland Milne, grief tender and facilitator. At the conference Matthew and Olive (old tree and young tree) will explore parallel ecologies of material and social cycles, with a focus on the key moments of transition between life, death and renewal. Matthew has designed the Cork House, a remarkable building with walls and roofs made almost entirely of solid cork. At the conference, you can hear more about the mindset and process of building with a bio-based material.

Before the conference you can read an interview with Matthew and Olive here.

What is your background, and how do you work with biobased building materials in your daily work?

M: I am an architect by training, and have also worked as an architectural teacher, lecturer and researcher – but the most meaningful experience with biobased materials has always been a hands-on encounter in the workshop and on site.

O: I studied anthropology, exploring cultural and ecological cycles, and specialized in multispecies anthropology, looking at how human beings and other life forms communicate and relate with one another. Now working with community grief ritual and nature-based practices, I am involved with how we create beauty and health-affirming environments through matter and ceremony.

What should we be particularly aware of when building with biobased materials?

M: Origin i.e. quality of landscape.
Longevity in use.
Maintaining material integrity through the building life cycle to enable the smooth flow of building components into i. another building, ii. another material process or iii. back into the biosphere.

O: Impact on the human body, nervous system, and our integrated wellbeing. What is the potential of building and living environments to be in service (or not) to the relationships between humans and the beyond-human world?

What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities regarding biomaterials in construction?

M: The shift towards using a greater proportion of biobased materials in construction will place more pressure on biorenewable landscapes – how do we treat these ecosystems as relatives and not just resources?

O: I am interested in the role of biomaterials in the move towards creating and innovating from a state of love and safety (i.e. health) rather than from a state of fear, hurry, and separation (i.e. cultural system overpowered by fight, flight, fawn, or freeze).  How can we go beyond just trying to problem-solve within an existing system of violence (ecological and social); instead to turn / return towards systems of health and creativity that honour our resources and all species?

As with all contemporary sectors facing inescapable challenges that are complex, deep-rooted, and deep-rotted, there is a collaboration of diverse disciplines required (cultural, technological, emotional, ecological, etc.).  I am interested in how we might ‘hospice’ current systems of exploitation, misuse, and imbalance, supporting their disassembly with grace, and thereby enable the change we wish to see.

Can you suggest three ways for advancing the use of biobased building materials in construction?

M: With care and respect for the ecosystems and landscapes that regenerate biobased materials. Developing an architectural language that responds to the need for a ‘regenerative’ building life cycle. Understanding and enjoying their limitations e.g. regarding moisture and fire.

Which projects do you find exciting when it comes to biobased materials, and why?

M: I look out for projects that use simple forms of solid construction, and not just biobased – such as Gilles Perraudin with structural stone, Martin Rauch with rammed earth, Hugh Strange’s Shatwell Farm studio in monolithic CLT.

What will you be talking about at the conference Biobased Building Materials, and what do you hope the participants will gain from your talk?

M + O: In any living system, moments of transition between the many stages of life, death and renewal are critical to maintaining systemic health. We will be exploring this in an architectural sense and embedded in a broader vision of cultural / social health. What does flow look like in the different stages of a life, a building, a culture? – and in the transitions between these stages? 

We will also be talking as father and daughter (old tree and young tree) so as a group we can connect with the unavoidable generational and cyclical nature of building, designing and creating.  Opening up to relationship and interconnectedness will allow us to participate consciously with Earth, art, species, resource, and life cycles.

Do you want to hear more from the old and young tree/Matt and Olive?

At the Danish conference Biobased Building Materials on the 21 – 22 August you can hear from Matt and Olive in which they will explore parallel ecologies of material and social cycles, with a focus on the key moments of transition between life, death and renewal. The architectural life cycle of Cork House will interweave with stories from wider culture. We can’t wait to hear more. Do you want to join? Read more about the conference and sign up today.

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