Walk through Whitelands with a forester and you will spend the whole time talking about yield class and ages, species choice and timber prices. Their eyes will fix on the practicalities: stem diameter, extraction routes, accessibility.  Walk through with an ecologist and they will tell you about canopy cover, undergrowth, historic landscapes and bryophytes; every log, every hollow it’s own habitat, each tree it’s own palace. Tread that same route with an artist and they will talk about the colours, the shapes of branches as they twist up toward the light, and how each organism is just one voice in a chorus.

I’ve had many of these conversations over the last few years. Add to that a few teachers focused on health and safety, the odd forager obsessing over mushrooms, and many, many children with tall tales about everything from beetles to fairies. Each time I delight in these new perspectives of the woodland, seeing all of it again from a fresh angle.

Recently, I had the privilege of welcoming a whole new ethos to Whitelands CIC. Some of you may know that in previous times, when under Jonathan West’s management, Whitelands worked a lot with the University of Portsmouth. Sadly, after his death the partnership between the woodland and the university lapsed…Until earlier this year! In June, thanks to Nicola Crowson and Dr Guido Robazza, we welcomed 40 UoP architecture students into the wood.

Nothing prepares you for the enthusiasm of curious students. Or, in fact, their lecturers! I had a few doubts regarding what could be achieved over a 3 day programme – going from design to custom milled cutting lists to construction, in less than 18 working hours. We had just one evening to discuss the context of the woodland, the needs of the CIC and woodland workers, the importance of sustainable/recycled materials, and then suddenly there they all were. Walking round the wood and standing in our camp asking me questions about compost loos and tree roots.

Architecture seems to require a unique combination of perspectives. In this woodland setting, you need the practicality of a forester with the sensitivity of an ecologist, but most importantly, the eye of an artist and the enthusiasm of a child. As I said, I was unsure about what we could achieve in 3 days. But the results speak for themselves.

 

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In keeping with the seasonal cycle of the woodland and to be respectful of our environment , these constructions are temporary. Each project (with the exception of the compost loo) will stand for less than a year before being dismantled by the next batch of students. The best part by far has been seeing learning in action. And seeing the amazing properties of western red cedar, the potential beauty of ‘weeds’ like clematis, bramble, and nettle come to life in such a variety of ways has been an entirely new experience for me – and many others.

A special thanks to Steve Read, Tom Hartley (of Whitelands Sawmill) and Si Mccarthy (of Grannytooth Woodworks) for all your patience and guidance throughout. But most of all, thank you to the University of Portsmouth! We are so looking forward to having you all back!

“Sit out to mind” – a woodland walkway constructed to help you contemplate the space you sit in.

A few words from the Portsmouth School of Architecture:

The Whiteland’s Making Project is a collaborative project between Portsmouth School of Architecture, and The Whiteland Project CIC on Butser Hill near Petersfield. This collaboration is born to explore the research and educational possibilities of making, ecology & place. This year has begun with a 3 day timber construction workshop in the Whitelands wood, where students engaged in the design and build of a series of temporary timber structures, responding to the ecology of the woodland.

Whitelands is a native woodland restoration project that works with local businesses and educational groups, teaching and inspiring people to value the woodland landscape and the resources it can provide.

The PSoA has nurtured a particular path on building at the scale of 1:1. Taking inspiration from the woodland and the opportunities presented by the materials, the aim is to make student learn hands-on making and co-creation processes. The experience of designing and making together is transformative.  There are no leaders in the design, but only a community of makers. This means everyone can learn from each other as a community of enquiry and everyone has something unique to bring to the process. Getting to know each other in a shared experience. A community led by students that goes beyond the traditional design studio. The project aims to engage students beyond architecture, to learn about ecologies, improvisation, collaborative making, and phenomenology.

Time for a well earned rest.