Building the Local by Ellie Birkhead

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Ellie Birkhead Design Academy Eindhoven 2018


“The problem is that in the process [of standardization] we came to view heterogeneity and variation as something to be avoided, as something pathological to be cured or uprooted since it endangered the unity of the nation state.� –Manuel DeLanda


ABSTRACT Amid the economic pressure of globalisation, how can we re-design local manufacturing to make it relevant in today’s world? What is the contemporary relationship between regional production and the global system churning out cheap and available mass-produced goods? As well as the tangible benefits of boosting local economy and reducing transportation emissions, producing and consuming products in a localised way can create a stronger sense of community, belonging and collective cultural identity. In the UK in particular, the recent Brexit vote, increased import costs and the weakened sterling all mean that addressing the demise of local industries is more relevant now than ever before. The distinctive regional identity of the Chiltern Hills has been diluted by a decline in local knowledge and the failure to utilise indigenous skills and materials. This fall in decentralised production has negative impacts far beyond purely the aesthetic fabric of the region. This thesis will consider the importance of local manufacturing for the enhancement of cultural identity and a sense of place. It will both explore the material benefits gained from crafts-based industries and


stress the importance of multi-industry relationships. These key questions will be contextualised through the craft of brickmaking – a symbolic casualty of the de-industrialisation of the Chiltern Hills.



CONTENTS The State of Making











Place and Manufacture








. 17

Heritage and Identity .










Craft and Industry .











Diversity and Materiality .







. 59

Economics and Logistics.









Conclusion .














THE STATE OF MAKING What is the meaning of local manufacturing today? And how can it fit within our globalised industrial world? Is there still a place for small-scale production and what are the challenges and pressures that are causing these industries to decline so rapidly? Over time the materials and resources found in a specific place at a certain time, combined with the needs and skills of the people who lived in that place allowed particular industries to develop. Industries that were rooted to the very earth that they sat on, they were driven by the climate of that specific place and produced a cultural heritage so strong even today on our globalised, standardised planet we can still feel the traditions live on. But only just. Complex networks and systems of manufacture accelerated by digital technologies are leading us to an identity crisis, a loss of connection to the very earth below our feet. In our search for diversity and variety, but also for global unity we have been left floating in a monotonous sea of sameness. When we talk about the state of the local vs. global debate the food industry leads. In recent years there has been a 360 turn around from local to global and back to local. The common desire to buy and consume local food has infiltrated the mass-market. When once the term organic was used in advertising campaigns to convince us to shop, local is now the term. From a time where local was the only sensible


option to a time of total availability of foods from all over the world, as a society we have chosen to value the local by choice. Large supermarkets have begun labeling foods with recognisable food mile symbols, enticing consumers to spend. As with all environmental acts, a backlash from the opposition is inevitable; recent media has criticised the food miles scheme by revealing that in some cases going local is not necessarily the least damaging to the planet, due to some over-seas production methods becoming more efficient and producing less emissions.(1) However it does show that on a broad level we have changed our understanding to believe that we should return to the local. But when it comes to the manufacture of goods the argument for localism has not been so successful. The complexities of non-consumable products are far greater than that of food; from more significant labour costs so more pressure to manufacture in lower cost countries, to more expensive retail prices of products as well as more durable products therefore less risky and more economical shipping costs. A multitude of factors, of which some will be evaluated further in this essay, mean that local manufacturers need intervention if we are to ensure their survival. Globalisation in relation to physical objects has become to mean mass-produced, standardized products. Smaller regionally based industries have either been forced to close or in much rarer cases have expanded into mega international infrastructures, and the notion of craftsmanship which once was at the core


of these firms has been entirely forgotten. When I mention craft I do not mean only handmade. Many unlikely industries continue to use manual labour, humans forced into becoming mechanized machines due to the need for employment and wages; managed into becoming small pieces of large assemblies where next to no individual decision-making can occur. What I refer to when I talk about craft is the deeply embedded learnt knowledge that a craftsperson has about their material. This connection and understanding of the qualities and roots of a material, of where it comes from, how it is affected by the seasons, weather, climate and other environmental changes, and the nature of its properties under different forces. A true craftsman’s power is in knowledge, whether this can be verbalized is another story, but this knowledge is held within the very hands and mind of the craftsman. And this allows crafts to be localised and deeply rooted to a place. A craftsman cannot have a deep knowledge of every tree across the planet; he has to pick his tree. It is not however to say that crafts are not a cross-cultural discipline, many have integrated techniques and materials from across the globe, but eventually they carry the story of their origins. It is more relevant to talk of crafts that merge into industry rather than the individual craftsman who is more of a fine artist than a traditional craftsman. A craftsman in industry is one that goes mostly unnamed. And these industrial crafts or cottage industries as they were once called, exist


within a localised system, a hierarchical network that allows them to exist individually but not without the support of the whole. The arborist tends the trees, the tree surgeon cuts them down, and the furniture maker crafts them into chairs, which supplies the brush maker with the offcuts to produce his handles. If we rid industry of the knowledge of the craftsman we are left with a de-humanised production process, one with no roots, no link to a place and no cultural relevance. The craftsman within industry is the invisible link to a sense of locality. Local production leads to diversity. It seems contradictory to say that by sticking to our roots we expand the diversity of our world. But I will explain why: when we focus specifically on what is around us and when each manufacturer uses the materials in their very own space we create variety. Taking the UK as an example of a small country with somewhat limited resources it is known that around every 25 miles you travel across the country the geology of the earth changes, from chalk to clay to granite to slate. And even if you take only one material, such as clay, the colour and the properties vary between each deposit across the country, which forces new production methods to be born. So as shown in the work of Atelier NL, and explained in the writings of Alessandro Baricco, “every clod contains the whole field, if you know how to read it�(2), if we all try to deeply understand our own piece of earth, yet share with others but not allow our own to be diluted maybe we can create


a world revived from the standardisation and dulling of goods across our planet. Taking into consideration all of the above points this thesis will reflect specifically on the brickmaking industries of the Chiltern Hills in the United Kingdom as a context to frame the thesis statement. For a number of reasons, as well as being my home, this specific context has become particularly prevalent to discuss in terms of local-vs-global manufacture. Britain’s recent vote for Brexit forces the nation to consider their manufacturing stance; industries across the whole nation have been declining for decades in a stark contrast to the industrial boom only a century previous; the housing market is in crisis and the demand for construction materials, particularly brick is soaring. The static architectural end-point of brick relates strongly to the cultural heritage and shared social identity of a place, in comparison to other products of similar manufacture, which often end up in flux. Therefore the brick, seemingly a simple geometric compression of earth can become an emblem to examine the heritage, identity, economic position and political status of a nation.


The River Chess starts its winding journey towards London in the picturesque market town of Chesham; the place name derived from the old English word Cæstæleshamm, meaning “the river-meadow at the pile of stones”. I imagine the town has changed quite dramatically since it acquired its name but nowadays it seems quite a peculiar name to give a place that is built almost entirely from bricks. The higgledypiggledy buildings line the narrow curling streets of the town constructing themselves from bricks and mortar. But the bricks aren’t like the ones you might see assembling your multi-story car, uniform, bland and monotonous;


these bricks seem so steeped in history it is almost a surprise they have not found their way into a museum archive. The bricks alternate with sides of red and ends of sooty grey, formulating a checkerboard pattern across the surface of each building. It would not be unimaginable to think that the River Chess itself was named after the board game like facades that puzzle together to make up this bustling British market town. If for some curious reason you find yourself in Chesham pottering down one of the numerous alleyways weaving their way between the rows of terraced buildings, and you take a moment to cast your eyes up the walls you will most likely find, faded into the surface, silhouettes of painted lettering. After some squinting and head tilting in order to make out the secretive words you may be able to read antique signage spelling out words such as: HAYES BOOTMAKERS or R.RUSSELL BRUSHES. The small unassuming


Buckinghamshire town nestled snuggly into the Chiltern Hills has a long a fruitful past of pioneering industry. The 4 B’s – that’s what Chesham was known for: boots, brushes, beer and Baptists. Perhaps it arrived too late in the game or possibly 5 B’s didn’t have the even ring to it that 4 B’s did, but for whatever reason there is one deserved B that didn’t make it onto the list: BRICKS. If one hundred years ago you were headed for the small town there is no doubt you would have seen it coming far before reaching the source of the river itself, for the billowing smoke pouring out of tall brick chimneys would have been visible far into the surrounding hills. Within just 8 miles of the town near enough 25 brick makers resided, and that would have been only a quarter of the brick manufacturers located within the Chilterns, where 100’s of the producers settled. Once you see them it’s hard to un-see them,


the bricks that housed the boot makers, the brush makers, the beer makers and Baptists - the 5th B.


PLACE AND MANUFACTURING The unique geology of the Chiltern Hills is what distinguishes it from the rest of the British Isles, its rolling hills and vast areas of beech woodland make up the visible landscape of the area, but under the surface it’s the layers of chalk, clay and flints that delineate the place. The chalky escarpment follows its path 74km through the counties of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. In 1965 the region was awarded the status and protection of an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a condition that safeguards the distinctiveness of the place. But it is not the natural landscape alone that makes up the known character of this place, it is the combination of this together with the work of the human; the buildings that have been created by man over many decades in a style that has become identifiable as that of the Chiltern Hills. Brick and flint is the vernacular style. It could be said that the AONB status has been awarded to protect the genius loci of the place. Gunlia Jivén and Peter J. Larkham elaborate on this expression, “Both the buildings and the symbolic meaning of a settlement are important for the genius loci concept as expressions of society’s cultural interpretation of place”.(3) Supporting Norberg-Schulz’s 1980’s theory, they emphasis the fact that nature is the basis of people’s interpretation of a place but the people, objects and buildings in relation to the natural environment is what give the place its ultimate meaning.


The rural and agricultural landscape surrounding a number of urban settlements found in the Chilterns today only subtly hint to its flourishing industrial past (fig.1&2). The small market town of Chesham is one particular example of a place built upon industry. Boots, brushes, lace, watercress, beer, bricks, wooden-toys were among numerous items produced in the area.(4) These industries provided employment for most of the town’s people, but not only that they shaped the natural landscape. The majority of beech woodland found throughout the Chilterns today was originally planted to meet the needs of the furniture makers, thriving in the neighbouring town of High Wycombe. But in recent decades the area has followed Britain’s national trend of de-industrialisation. The United Kingdom, once the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution has become almost entirely reliant on the import of goods from over-seas. The nation has seen a seismic shift from manufacturing industry to the service industry, shrinking two-thirds in just three decades, creating the biggest de-industrialisation of any major nation.(5) So where does that leave the working citizens of Britain and what impact does this have on local communities and cultures? In a place such as the Chiltern Hills, where heritage and conservation emphasise the need for local building materials what impact does the demise of these manufacturing industries and networks have on such place? The brick could be described as the ultimate icon


of localism. The whole process of raw material extraction to final product, to use and ultimate life can be confined to a single region. With housing demand higher than ever(6) and an abundance of clay in the Chiltern Hills, why is it then that hundreds of millions of bricks are being imported from over-seas?(7) Over one hundred brickworks once inhabited the region, but with yet another closure taking place in the past year now only one manufacturer remains. Due to the variation in clay members across Britain, bricks visibly show a regional distinctiveness through their colouration when extracted and process in a localised way. This colour variation can be seen all across the country in older buildings, from yellow bricks in London to vivid red oxygen-rich bricks in the North and blue bricks in Staffordshire, due to their high proportion of iron-bearing minerals.(8) Even within a smaller area such as the Chiltern Hills colour variation is evident across the region because of a combination of raw material changes but also subtle differences in manufacturing techniques. Therefore, the closure of these brickworks and the centralization of brickmaking across the globe may rid future buildings of having a local distinctiveness. This risk of placelessness and the importance of uniqueness to cultural identity will be discussed further in the following chapter. One of the most famous recent examples involving local communities and small-scale manufacturing is the Granby Four Streets project. Turner Prize winning design and architectural collective Assemble used design and the power of local manufacturing


to re-build the diminished and neglected community in Liverpool. The Granby Workshop, a result of the larger Granby Four Streets project, has been up and running since 2011. It is a unique designer-led, community driven, manufacturing workspace. Assemble approaches the issue of rebuilding the derelict streets of Liverpool with a sensitive and long-term approach resulting in a project that embodies the essence of locality. They maintain a methodology that is humble, the mission to create genuinely affordable products with functions that are needed in the homes of the people living and working in the area. Adversely or otherwise designers have a power over local communities. They have to ability to erect buildings, sell products, and use resources which all consciously or subconsciously impact the local residents. This hierarchy is something many designers would be embarrassed to admit but by doing so it forces the designer or architect to take responsibility for their work. The issue is that many designers don’t tend to commit to projects on lengthy basis, they design, they make and they move on. Often they do not have the time, funding or inclination to truly understand a place prior to taking action in a community. This is not to put the blame designers explicitly, but to state the result of a hierarchical position of power that has evolved through rising education fees in the UK in particular, among multiple other political and economic factors. The Granby Workshop (fig.3) provides the infrastructure for the local employees to produce hand-made


unique products with the aid of revived mechanical machinery. The initiative to do this, as opposed to making more traditionally handmade products creates the benefits of quicker production and therefore more affordable products, putting into practice the economy of scale. It also cleverly eliminates the issue of the time it takes to learn complex craft skills, which today is a large factor in collapse of traditional craft practices. Another success with this method of production is that the hand-mechanised machinery allows the maker to retain decisions within the process and also to create one-off designs with each object; the benefits of which will be elaborated in the chapter Craft and Industry. Unfortunately the products produced in the workshop are almost all interior elements. It seems a shame that the objects will not create a visual presence on the streets of Granby, such as, for example, smaller architectural elements could do, which could further enhance the sense and pride of place that the residents have been lacking. That aside there is much to be learnt from this exemplary project; could this approach be translated to a specific area of the Chiltern Hills and put now unused craft skills to use? And could this small community run workshop approach be a better alternative than trying to cling on to bygone industries?    








The Queen’s Head is everything you would want from a British pub. The pub is adorned on either side by quaint modestly sized cottages. The checkered brick facade makes way for six symmetrically positioned sash windows overlooking to street below. Ivy and geraniums spill out from hanging baskets dangling precariously from each window. The backdrop for the golden lettering spelling out the pub’s royal title is painted perfectly onto the bricks below in a deep wellie boot green. The natural tones of the building are hidden for a moment where the sign sits, but the rectangular rhythmic 3-dimensional pattern


of the brick still quietly emerges below the layers of paint. Even if you were to come across the drinking hole at 10am on a quiet Tuesday morning it would not be difficult to imagine the life that plays out inside these walls. But if you’re lucky enough to come by the pub during opening hours, you will undoubtedly be struck by the dauntingly low ceilings and beams snaking back and forth across the snug rooms. The way the well-worn regulars navigate the looming rafters is a sight to be seen even for the most well rehearsed pub-goer. Once you have stopped mesmerizing at their perfectly timed dips of the knees and tilts of the head you will be able to recognize the locals at just a glance by the embodied stoop of their heads, which by now has irreversibly become part of their silhouette.


In a time where open-plan living tantalizes us daily in glossy magazines and social media feeds, the surprising number of rooms older buildings manage to squeeze in always impresses me. When you enter through the door of the pub you will arrive in a minuscule entrance hall leading into a cosy restaurant, then there is a small room which contains only a small telephone table that clearly has not supported a telephone for many years, there’s a tiny toilet for men and a tiny toilet for women, a small room before you go into the tiny toilet and an even smaller room which I supposed would be called a lobby before you enter the bar. There’s the kitchen, the staff room, the staff toilet and the boiler room and I can only imagine the maze of rooms mapping out the upper 2 floors. If you have never been lucky enough to find yourself in a British pub allow me to ask you


to take a moment to let your mind consider all of those brick walls. And if you start to think of all of the other buildings in the town built in such a way it begins to make sense as to how so many brickmakers flourished in the Chiltern Hills alone.


HERITAGE AND IDENTITY Local manufacturing influences the surrounding cultural landscape in both material and immaterial ways. When local materials are used to make products for specific local needs and are retailed at appropriate prices they become infiltrated into our daily lives. A shared cultural heritage can be found in any number of products, but in the case of long lasting building materials this aesthetic fabric becomes most relevant. It is hardly possible to address vernacular architecture without discussing the meaning and relevance of history and tradition. The very word ‘vernacular’ can be defined as, “the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people in a particular country or region”. (9) Poignant ethnographic research done by George Orwell, James Meek and Neil Brownsword addresses the lives of these ordinary people from industrial communities across Britain. The ceramic industry of Stoke-on-Trent was and in many ways still is illustrious. But its downfall parallels that of the rest of Britain’s industries over the past decades. Neil Brownsword, a contemporary artist, specifically addresses the declining ceramic industry of Stoke-on-Trent, whilst speaking more broadly to the nationwide loss of craft based industry in the UK. His work Factory, “is a performative installation that reflects upon notions of place, skill, people and material objects left behind following the process of industrial change.”(10) In an intimate performance


a factory worker discards painstakingly crafted ceramic flowers immediately after completing making them, powerfully addressing the nature and hierarchy of the worker in relation to industry (fig.4). There is a tension between the repetitive mind-less work of the worker and yet the heritage and foundation of a place that has been built upon manufacturing. Brownsword provides, “a platform to raise greater awareness of the intangible heritage associated with industrial craft practices in the very nation where the industrial revolution began.”(11) As a former worker in Stoke-onTrent’s ceramic factories Neil Brownsword has deep insight to the values that come from employment in such a place. Though his performative work is abstract he conveys the sense loss and longing for a heritage craft-industry and community due to the widespread pressures of global capitalism. Intriguingly, Brownswords Factory installation, which communicates powerfully to British citizens of similar dilapidated industrial societies, was recently exhibited in South Korea at the Korea Ceramic Foundation, demonstrating that this performance speaks not only to the people of Britain but also globally. South Korea invests in the safeguarding of intangible heritage, associated with its own ceramic history, ensuring that associated skills are maintained for future generations.(12) Britain, on the other hand, shows poorer investment in this area. At today’s count The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts lists over 165 traditional heritage skills on the brink of extinction, with 17 crafts in the UK being recorded as critical-




ly endangered. The UK did not sign up for the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, unlike 172 other countries worldwide, which ensures that traditional craftsmanship as well as other forms of intangible heritage is protected. The very fact that this performance exists in a cultural sphere is a comment on the state of industrial heritage in Britain today. The reduction of a crafts-based industry to an art display demonstrates the nations attitude towards its own manufacturing today. These industries are no longer seen as a part of our daily lives, but as histories to be put into a museum, to be consumed, no longer to be lived. In Orwell’s novel The Road to Wigan Pier, the harsh realities of life in past industrial Britain are overtly exposed. With description after description of living conditions giving a picture of the appalling conditions, such as, “Room nearest stairs has no door and stairs have no banister, so that when you step out of bed your foot hangs in vacancy and you may fall ten feet on to stones. Dry rot so bad that one can see through the floor into the room below. Bugs, but ’I keeps ’em down with sheep dip’. Earth road past these cottages is like a muck-heap and said to be almost impassable in winter. Stone lavatories at ends of gardens in semi-ruinous condition. Tenants have been twenty-two years in this house.”(13) But to assume that the reasons for these frightful housing conditions are due to the fact they are industrial communities, in this case coal-mining, would be erroneous. In truth






this detailed and imperative research reflects more upon the political and social state of Britain in the 1930’s than of anything else, and of the North South divide, which still prevails. It would be too assumptive to say that manual labour was the sole cause of these appalling living situations. Unlike in the case of Brownsword, Orwell writes as an onlooker. Between relentless gloomy descriptions of life in Wigan’s disgraceful mining dwellings Orwell touches momentarily on the sense of community and friendships that these communities nurtured. He mentions that the general feeling of the workers being moved into Corporation houses comes as, “serious blow at communal life”.(14) Would life really have been better without these mining jobs and industrial opportunities? I doubt it. Although working conditions were shameful, without the opportunity to work at all these communities would have had even less hope. It is difficult to say whether or not industry helped or hindered these societies, however it is clear they it did lead to a sense of belonging and of home that was threatened when the Corporation houses were introduced and workers were deported out of the slums. In Somerdale to Skarbimierz, a more recent research paper that better reflects the current British working landscape, James Meek follows the move of Cadbury’s to Poland; he eloquently dissects the complex implications factory relocation has on the left behind citizens (fig.5&6) What Meek reveals through interviews with the ex-Cadbury workers situated in


Somderdale, UK, is the inexplicable value these industries had on their lives. Before globalisation and greed caused these companies to relocate for the exploitation of cheaper labour, these factories provided local society with countless benefits, economic but also cultural. Meek expands on this global capitalism, influenced by the great privatisation of the British economy: It was a triumph. But it also marked a critical stage in the depersonalisation of institutional culture. It made it easier for companies whose owners have no interest in the cultural weight of the enterprises they control – who see ideas such as history, place, community, aesthetics and paternalism as outmoded obstacles to efficiency – to act as if they operate in a space outside culture, even as their decisions radically transform it.(15) What Meek reveals in his post Brexit examination is the truth behind why the majority of factories relocated over-seas. It is an action that is taken purely for monetary motives. Maciej Badora, the president of the place where Cadbury’s relocated speaks with empathy for the people of Somerdale, “to close such a factory, especially one so long-established, is really painful and sad for local society. But decisions to close down factories are made purely by companies, and we have no influence.”(16) The argument posed by many for the reason not to fight against Britain’s de-industrialisation becomes destabalised when you delve deep into these realities. To say that we should


accept change and allow local industries – skills, jobs, culture, heritage – to be lost is to give in to these enormous capitalist pressures. The closure of these industries is not for the ordinary people, but for the few. It allows huge companies to expand into even larger corporations, creating a market that is no longer penetrable by local manufacturers who generate local benefits. A local brickmaking industry provides a particularly interesting relevance in terms of its influence on cultural heritage and identity. Not only in the intangible ways described previously but uniquely the brick, when produced and utilised locally creates an additional permanent material fabric. Meek, Orwell and Brownsword only very subtly touch on this tangible element of heritage, but this aesthetic component forms the foundations of a place upon which all other intangible aspects are built upon. Therefore the brickmakers work becomes doubly valuable. Not only can it provide positive local conditions in the form of jobs, community and so on, but if continued to be used to build in the region, as it once was, it can continue to contribute to the visual identity of the place. Organisations such as English Heritage, UNESCO and SPAB (Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, founded by William Morris) have been working to protect this tangible heritage by the conservation of old buildings, among other initiatives. There is a common belief of static and stale-ness


associated with conservation and heritage organisations. The idea that these societies are unwilling to embrace changes and their only goal is to preserve the past. Although to some extent there is truth in this belief, the SPAB approach, which is strongly influenced by William Morris’ original manifesto written in 1877, explains their mission for restoration as opposed to purely protection: A building’s fabric is the primary source from which knowledge and meaning can be drawn. Materials and construction methods embodied in building fabric illustrate changes in people’s ideas, tastes, skills and the relationship with their locality. Fabric also holds character and beauty; the surfaces, blemishes and undulations of old buildings speak of the passage of time and of lives lived. Wear and tear adds beautiful patination that new work can only acquire through the slow process of ageing. Building fabric is precious. A concern for its protection helps ensure that the essence of an old building survives for future generations to appreciate. The SPAB Approach therefore stands against Restorationist arguments that it is possible and worthwhile to return a building to its original - or imagined original - form. Equally, the SPAB Approach generally rejects arguments that original design or cultural associations are more important than surviving fabric. For the Society, protecting fabric allows meaning and significance to be drawn from it by individuals, groups and successive generations.(17) 38

Learning from, understanding and utilising elements from the past does not have to mean living in stale backward looking societies. It does not have to be old against new. It also does not mean simply mimicking the past or returning to outdated ideals but what it does mean is taking elements of the past that have built up over generations and adding to these geological layers of human history with our own relevant contemporary meanings.



Sticky, claggy, muddy clay. It clings to the sole of your shoes with incredible resilience. It’s unavoidable, caking every inch of the well-trodden ground below. You jump back quickly as a worker maneuvers a small fork-lift through an impossibly small space, then set off again on your journey deeper through the long warehousestyle building passing bricks stacked high on shelves on both sides. At first you stare intently at each one, worrying you’ll miss something of interest, but after just a few more meters you begin to become complacent as you notice more bricks filling every nook and cranny, and you realise there aren’t enough moments in a lifetime


to examine each and every one. More workers. Lifting, shifting, rotating, hoisting, pushing, pivoting. Bodies are everywhere, heads down, moving continuously, refusing to break the rhythm of their choreographed roles. By this point your shoes are so thick with clay you give up attempting to dodge the squelching puddles and focus instead on observing the incredibly labour-intensive performance in action, trying not to stand out; but you know it’s impossible not to, without a mask of clay-tinged skin. Two men stand with their backs facing the room, their arms moving in relentless unison like rotating pistons on a steam train. They slap large quantities of clay into the four-part brick moulds with a surprising and unexpected agility; bang the wooden moulds aggressively down onto the work bench; scrape off the excess material with a ‘harp’; flip the whole ensemble; then slowly, with an awkward shudder, reveal a row of


four perfectly formed, sand-coated, rectangular blocks of clay. Any normal person would probably feel that they deserved a well-earned break at this point. But these are not any normal people. The artisanal brickmaker repeats this back-breaking act tirelessly, concocting brick after brick from the raw, shapeless material pulled from the earth only meters away, not slowing until his quota has been reached. 800 bricks for a standard wage, 4000 to earn his bonus.



CRAFT AND INDUSTRY Although brickmaking is often viewed today as an industrial activity, it has its roots firmly in craftsmanship. The Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers dates back to the early 15th Century(18) and was established to encourage excellence in the craft of brickwork. Although the majority of bricks in the UK are still laid by hand, most of the brickmaking process is now done by machine. Despite being far quicker and much less labour intensive to produce, the machine-made brick has none of the texture, variability or visual charm of the handmade brick, which is why the last remaining brickmakers of the Chiltern Hills continues to makes a large percentage of their bricks by hand, even with the painstaking physical labour demanded. The obvious aesthetic enhancement in the handmade brick in comparison to the monotonous machine-made version is what entices people to pay a considerably higher amount. But in truth it is not the physical part of the handmade label that people are paying for, in today’s world infiltrated with mass-production it is the romanticism of the handmade, the feeling that the consumer knows the truth behind the product that is the ultimate marketing tool. Pitted against the confusing and complex contemporary world of manufacturing the description and the lure of handmade implies so much more than just the physicality of making. With exponential advancements in machine-abili-


ty the possibility to replicate the handmade look by industrial processes is not particularly testing. Many designers, such as Hella Jongerius with her project B-Set,(19) have explored the potentials of machines producing handmade effects (fig.7). By increasing the firing temperature of the plates she designs, the results are diverted from the generic homogenised look of usual machine-produced tableware. She achieves a similar effect with her IKEA PS Jonsberg vases,(20) where she manages to preserve traces of the craft process within the mass-produced product (fig.8). The reason she has been able to produce these effects is due to multifaceted knowledge of the production process and an inherent understanding of material behavior. Is this craft? Craft, so often epitomised by handmade is better defined by a true material understanding that is only acquired through time and lengthy material contact. Craft can include handmade but should not be defined by it. If we have machines that are able to produce the exact same aesthetic look as a handmade object, including all of the variabilites that come with that, should we continue to force physically exhausting labour intensive work purely for the sake of marketing and a consumer fallacy? Why not re-educate the consumer to understand that the qualities of craft do not come from handmade in the form of physical labour but in the time; time that is needed to understand the true capacity of a material and its interactions with other materials, tools and pressures? And time that is needed to form the






material sympathetically in a way that runs true to the character of the substance. Maybe time is what is needed to truly acquire craftsmanship? Sadly in today’s fast-paced, highly populated world efficiency is still the biggest goal. In 1920 Adolf Loos wrote Ornament and Crime addressing his opinion on labour, the craftsman, efficiency and ornamentation. Loos wrote from a time where ornamentation was abundant, so much so it could be considered sickly. Today it is scare. It lives on only in traditionally preserved architecture. If Loos could see the state of today’s stark and austere architecture I highly doubt that he would still have written as he did in 1910. Despite Loos’s outdated opinion of ornamentation, once relevant when he wrote in response to the influx of Art Nouveau buildings in Venice, many of the other points he raises in his writing are still as poignant as before. Loos references the value of work and the pay of the worker often. He states: Today, ornament on items that need no ornament means wasted labour and spoilt materials. If all objects were aesthetically enduring for as long as they lasted physically, the consumer could afford to pay a price that would enable the worker to earn more money and work shorter hours. [...] But in trades suffering under the tyranny of the ornamentalists, good or bad work­manship does not count. The work suffers because nobody wants to pay its true value.(21) To conclude: less ornamentation, more affordable products, better wages. But the reality is starkly different. The reality today in the world of mass-pro49

duced goods is lack of ornamentation, affordable products, terrible wages. Loos writes before the industrial revolution really took its hold on production, when the machine age was still on the rise. In 1913 Henry Ford developed the assembly line, an icon of mass-production. The assembly line had an immense impact on efficiency in production of products and led to a forced standardisation among them. There was no room for ornamentation, no room for human decision, no room for craft. The worker was pushed down perilously in the hierarchy to become a mere part of an infrastructure built around efficiency. The assembly line worker became a singular cog in a human-driven machine. This is not to say that the worker no longer possessed skill, but the endeavor for efficiency stripped all elements of humanness from the making process. However, what this industry progression did leave way for was the craftsman. Amongst a relentless wake of mass-produced goods, intricately crafted pieces have the space to shine and the work of the individual named craftsperson has become valued. The limited scale of this level of craft is where the challenge now arises. Craft has taken on almost a fine art status in Britain, it’s expensive, it’s limited and it’s tentatively elite. Craft and industry have become detached, and the problem with this is that industry serves many whereas craft today only serves the few. In the recent manifesto Beyond the New, written by design gurus Hella Jongerius and Louise Schouwenberg they ad-


dress the importance of industry focused designers: Count the blessings of industry. Industrial processes have greater potential than low-volume productions of exclusive designs, which reach such limited market that talk of ‘users’ can hardly be taken seriously. Industries can make high-quality products available to many people. We should breathe new life into that ideal.(22) In addition, the demise of the craftsman within industry comes a lack of full material potential. Machines, although ever improving in their capabilities, do not yet have the embodied material understanding of a master craftsman; they do not understand or react to the nuances raw materials possess. The British metallurgist, Cyril Stanley Smith, explains this theory, “The craftsman can compensate for differences in the qualities of his material, for he can adjust the precise strength and pattern of application of his tools to the materialis local vargaries. Conversely, the constant motion of machine requires constant materials.”(23) Manuel DeLanda elaborates on the true potential of steel, “the deskilling of craftsmen that accompanied mechanization may be seen as involving a loss of at least part of that knowledge, since in many cases empirical know-how is stored in the form of lost skills.”(24) It is the embodied knowledge of the craftsman, something that is only acquired over a large amount of time and dedication, which cannot be quantified and therefore replicated by machine, that brings out the true potential of materials. This will be


reflected on further in chapter Diversity and Materiality. Is it the return of small-scale industry with craft ideals that we need to promote, as Christopher Frayling’s suggests in his book, On Craftsmanship? Frayling addresses a future for local production and discusses in his writings the need to stop comparing craft and industry as two separate entities but to revert to a world that amalgamates the two. He discusses the avoidance of a nostalgic view of the past, and speaks often of craft’s relationship to mass-production. The definition of craft is something that has not and probably never will be agreed on; in a descriptive and abstract writing attempting to define craft, R.G. Collingwood identifies craft in a lengthy 6-point classification, referencing the relationship between raw material and finished product, means and end, form and matter and an essential hierarchical relationship between the crafts.(25) But Frayling opts, as most theorists do, for a simpler description. He concludes that craft is about, ‘retaining control at the point of production’,(26) therefore eradicating the more common belief that craft must be handmade. Frayling refers to small craft-industries in ‘The Middle Italy’ as successful models of intimate firms having adopted machine-tool technology, but yet retaining the values of craftsmanship, maintaining the element of human control within the production process. His thesis ends with the quote, “it may not be a


question in the near future of ‘industry versus craft’ but of ‘craft within industry’, of a product hand built with just a little assistance from robots. Industries of a few people, creating local networks with new kinds of tools, maybe linking with larger networks…”(27) The industry links between small-scale manufacturers in the Chiltern Hills was once strong and diverse and a shared need for similar resources, such as beech wood, allowed these industries to co-exist. But today, with the closure of firms across many sectors these vital links have become destabilised. This relationship between manufacturers is a crucial factor to the survival of crafts-based industries, creating many benefits such as the reduction of waste by utilising unused materials, the reduction in costs of buying new materials, reduction in environmental damage by limiting raw material extraction, the reliance and support for other local industries and so on. If today’s remaining industries want to survive, new links need to be established in order to combat the enormous pressures of globalisation, threatening Britain’s industrial landscape. Perhaps forging these new networks is where the role of the designer comes in? And perhaps rather than focusing on a craft revival we should focus on creating an industrial revival, to make industry human again.



Next time you are lying in bed struggling to drift off to sleep, instead of counting sheep try to count the number of bricks needed to build a house. I feel quite confident in my advice that you won’t make it past one wall before dreams of something more exciting start to fill your sleepy mind. In the small town of Chesham alone I dare say there are more bricks sandwiched between layers of mortar than sheep roaming the fields of Wales. When you conjure up a picture of this town in your mind maybe you won’t immediately think of the 102.5cm x 65cm x 215cm blocks of clay that accumulate to construct every inch of this place, maybe you


will think of the raucous landlady parading outside her pub or the red kites souring in the skies above, but I am pretty certain somewhere in your image a red-y orange-ish backdrop will be there. Buckinghamshire hands squeeze wet slack clay into sandy wooden moulds 1000’s of times per day in order to house the growing population of Chesham. The system works so smoothly that almost no city commuter has ever considered how his house came to be. But the brickmaker understands every detail. The brickmaker, of which many can be found in a disguise of jeans and a plain t-shirt in the Queen’s Head on a Saturday night, is aware of every wall, every pavement and every chimney. He doesn’t see a wash of red as do the rest of us less knowing inhabitants, but he sees handmade Chesham Multi’s identifiable because of the mixtures of purplish reds and the small sand crease tracing its way across the bottom of


each brick layered up in an Flemish bond, or he see’s the subtle browns of a Chalfont Mix and he knows that the clay comes from right beneath the feet of the people of the Chilterns and the sand made its way over thousands of years down the River Chess before being scooped into wooden brick moulds. He knows that the colour, consistency and thickness of the lime mortar laid down by his bricklayer cousins is the key to whether the brick will leap out of the wall or be over-shone by the mortar itself. He knows that the sooty grey ends of the bricks checkered between the reds are a result of the ancient wood-fired kiln technique revived at the brickworks after almost a century. And he knows, modestly and unassumingly, that without those humble bricks there would be no Chesham.



DIVERSITY AND MATERIALITY Our world is changing, and fast. Alessandro Baricco describes this movement in his book as the coming of The Barbarians, a new influx of youth who have been brought up on a planet that seems smaller in size than probably at any other time in history. The world is tangible, and we want to have all that it offers. The Barbarians begins with a critical outlook on this new world, but as the writing goes on, Baricco turns the culture shift around to be somewhat of a positive phenomenon. Among other examples of this ‘Barbarianism’ he uses the case of wine to show the trajectory of the majority of products of our time. Baricco describes the evolution of localised and diverse French wine in comparison to bland and standardised ‘Hollywood wine’. The ‘Hollywood wine’ is a result of commercialisation and globalisation, which forces the product to become de-localised and as a result less specific in taste, time and place. “The microcosm of wine describes the advent, on a planetary level, of a practice which, while preserving the gesture, seems (I said seems) to dilute its meaning, depth, complexity, originality, original richness and nobility – even its history”(28), the author states. Surprisingly Baricco concludes his book with a positive view on ‘Barbarianism’, and although this evaluation seems somewhat forced there are undoubtedly benefits of this global trend. Without which it would not be possible to buy drinkable wine on all corners of the globe for a reasonable price (the wine here being interchangeable


for a vast array of other consumables). I will however, go on to explain further the difficulties of this phenomenon. It should be noted that Baricco’s attitude, shared by many other critics and designers today, is not a new standpoint. Orwell’s novel The Road to Wigan Pier is an insight into attitudes from the early 20th Century: “As you can see by looking at any greengrocer’s shop, what the majority of English people mean by an apple is a lump of highly-coloured cotton wool from America or Australia; they will devour these things, apparently with pleasure, and let the English apples rot under the trees. It is the shiny, standardized, machine-made look of the American apple that appeals to them; the superior taste of the English apple is something they simply do not notice.”(29) Due to the nature of his detailed ethnographic research, Orwell was acutely aware of these paradoxes of society; therefore, although interesting to reflect upon, it does not prove that this was the attitude of the masses at that time. In his introduction to The Barbarians, Alessandro hits on a key issue of globalisation, which disappointingly he fails to return to for the rest of the book. He writes, “It takes a great deal of effort to understand one’s own clod of earth, which leaves little time to understand the rest of the field. But perhaps every clod contains the whole field, if you know how to read it.”(30)To elaborate: if each of us focused accu-


rately and intensively on our own surroundings, our neighbours around us, the environmental conditions of the specific place we are living, we would have a whole wealth of knowledge, materials, skill and know-how, that would be relevant on a human level. We would have more variation and diversity than any ‘Barbarian’ could ever imagine. Yes, we should not discriminate, exclude or alienate and we should welcome cultural interchange but we should not be afraid to be different and hold on to our differences. If there’s any design studio that understands their own clod of earth it’s the Netherlands based duo Atelier NL. In reaction to the past and prolonged movement of uniformity, initiated by the machine age of the 21st Century, designers have been stimulated to prove the diversity of materials once again. In their 2009 project Clay Service, Atelier NL attempted to visualise this material diversity by extracting clay, by hand, from their home country, and forming the raw material into homeware with unique identities.(31) Through the language of colour each set of plates, cups and bowls alludes to the place its raw material originated. This was just the beginning of the studios extensive matter research, which has since progressed into even more elaborate museum style displays of colour. What Atelier NL remind us of so well through their intensive material studies is that we do not always have to search far and wide for variety; by extracting materials and utilising them in a precise and pure way we can create vast material diversity even in the


smallest countries, such as the Netherlands. And by using materials in this localised way we can create objects, which describe a very specific place and time, through their design vocabulary. Once upon a time globalisation lead to cultural diversity but today the centralisation of production has resulted in a muting and dampening of these cultural differences. By living in such a fast-paced society constantly on the move, in search for something greater, are we failing to see the pearls right below our feet? This way of working with materials does not only achieve an aesthetic diversity, but it can result further in a diversity of form and skill. As mentioned in the previous chapter, the philosopher Manuel DeLanda elaborates on this theory, “we may now be in a position to think about the origin of form and structure, not as something imposed from the outside on inert matter, not as a hierarchical command from above as in an assembly line, but as something that may come from within the materials, a form that we tease out of those materials as we allow them to have their say in the structures we create.�(32) He gives evidence in his writing that during industrialisation’s transition from human to machine labour we began to classify materials as possessing unified identities. The homogenisation of material characteristics in order to fit better into limited machine capabilities rid materials of the nuances that exist within singularly categorised matters. Rather than continuing on this persistent path striving for greater efficiency and economic re-


ward should we not focus our attention instead on rediscovering the tones, gradations and distinctions within materials, that we have allowed to be forgotten because of the homogenous processes of machine production?  



You have to see it to believe it: Chesham has its own London Underground station. At 40km northwest of Charing Cross it is the furthest station from central London; claiming the title of both the northernmost and westernmost underground station. Not really being in London at all makes it all the more difficult to fathom how this infrastructure was ever realised. Protected by English Heritage as a listed building this station is more of a historic monument than a commuter pit stop. Time seems to slow down as you near the Buckinghamshire stop: with trains only running every 30 minutes and regularly pausing for more than


10 minutes at the station, the usual impatient city-goer is forced to wind down their frantic metropolitan clock and succumb to life outside the Big Smoke. The ever-increasing distances between stops, commencing with a substantial 9-minute journey between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham, helps to decelerate the commuter pendulum. Though a far cry from today’s electrically powered carriages you only have to allow your thoughts to stray into history to envision the steam trains that once conveyed briefcasecarrying bodies of Chesham back and forth from the city. If you arrive at the station any time between 07:25 and 07:37 on a weekday morning you will see a man stood at the end of the platform, positioned just in front of the brick-built water tower, a peculiar nostalgic relic standing proudly at the end of the Metropolitan line. Despite the daily commuters milling around the station, I have no


doubt you will be able to recognise the man I describe. Average height, trousers slightly too large, shoes that look suspiciously heavy duty for the office job he is clearly en route to. He tries desperately to act out this daily ritual, a performance he knows so well, but even from the other end of the platform you can feel his heart isn’t really in it. 07:36. The train pulls in. He stands motionless. The others swiftly clamber aboard the London shuttle. But he hesitates. Glances over his shoulder gazing beyond the water tower in the direction of the factory he once worked, then, as if pulling his feet from thick clay, reluctantly boards the train.



ECONOMICS AND LOGISTICS A huge contributing factor to the de-industrialisation across Britain is financial competition from other nations. In a recent discussion with the owner of the latest brickmakers to close in the Chiltern Hills, he explains that the company is not able to compete with the lower prices of imported bricks from Belgium, due to production costs, health and safety costs and emission levies.(33) This story echoes almost all local industry closures across Britain in recent years. But why is it that countries so much smaller in size than Britain are able to produce so many more bricks and sell them at much cheaper prices? And why do we continue to import heavy material commodities creating considerable CO2 emissions when they could be produced on and from home soil? Our economy is not designed to support small-scale manufacture; it is designed in a way that boosts successful large-scale companies to grow into mega-companies, and in turn drives out small local manufacturers. Paradoxically, today’s current economic climate has caused the local to become far more expensive than the global, and our perception of the value of products has no correlation to true material value. In his revealing Toaster Project London-based designer Thomas Thwaites ingeniously unveils the complexities of global supply chains responsible for such economic conditions (fig.9). In 2008 the designer challenged himself to reproduce an unassum-


ing mass-produced toaster that retailed for less than £5.00, and through this seemingly straightforward task he reveals networks of production and economies of scale so complex they cause our understanding of the true value of materials to become almost entirely obscured.(34) In recent times we have felt a political backlash and a cry of nativism in the form of the shock Brexit vote, shortly followed by the US election, but eight years on from Thwaites’s graduation project, globalisation continues to prevail. The mass-manufactured toaster is a modern-day symbol of globalisation: its sense of placeless materialism and its lack of identity are precisely the issue. Could it be that this object with no clear connection to a place or point in time is what is leading people to disconnect from objects and consume to the point of global destruction? The injection-moulded plastic casing has a timelessness which eerily represents its de-humanised manufacture but also its destiny most likely in a landfill where it will lay static, unable to bio-degrade or rot for centuries to come. The toaster’s lack of identity rids any one person from a sense of responsibility for the object; its complex beginnings make it almost entirely untraceable. Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma discusses her investigations into local production in this global world. In her ongoing exploration titled The Flax Project she wanted to create a locally grown and pro-


duced product that could retail at an affordable price, her point of reference being other commonly available mass-market products. At first Meindertsma experimented with tea towels made from the flax but soon realised that the products would have to retail at €40, not an affordable price in comparison to globally produced tea towels, currently retailing for the staggeringly cheap price of €2. She reflects upon her design decisions, “From farm to product, it should be a system that works, whereas with my tea towel, it will always stay in a design shop world because it’s just too expensive.”(35) Unfortunately this is the reality of competing with global supply chains that designers, makers and craftspeople are forced to understand, but the average consumer does not. In the end Meindertsma altered her initial idea of creating a tea towel into the production of the Flax Chair, retailing at a price of €400 (fig.10). For all of the nostalgia, romanticism and appeal of local production this project only emphasises further the reality that smallscale design cannot escape the pressures of the global economy. There is however one way to defy this economic trend, and that is, as touched on in the chapter Craft and Industry, to employ the desirable values of heritage, craft and place. As seen at the enduring brickworks of the Chiltern Hills people are willing to pay the price for craft, for heterogeneity and to conserve local heritage. By reviving the ancient traditional technique of wood-firing after the technique died


out more than 100 years ago, the brickworks offer a piece of history in the form of their now rare silvery-glazed bricks (fig.11). This technique combined with the handmade process of many of their bricks has allowed them to continue business as a smallscale local manufacturer despite the pressures of the global systems. But is it really the only answer to go backwards, to revive history and to continue to make by hand in order to sell to people’s romantic ideals, or can there be another way? The debate of handmade against machine-production is tiresome, it has been argued since the beginning of the industrial revolution and will likely continue to do so as long as designers, craftspeople and technophiles continue to inhabit the same earth. Instead of focusing on handmade why not focus on craftsmanship and its attitude towards making? Although I speak hesitantly about replacing the craftsman with the machine, as I believe the two can co-exist, it is important to note broader impacts this can have on local society: the craftsman is paid locally, the craftsman pays taxes, the craftsman sends his children to local schools, contributes to social organisations, spends his money in local shops, restaurants and pubs, on local products and so on. The craftsman can be viewed as a unit of society, which when multiplied can produce alternative economies of scale. To quote James Meek, in reference to Cadbury’s modernisation, “Robots don’t eat chocolate”.(36)








CONCLUSION Due to the significant collapse of British industry in recent decades, local manufacturing has become almost non-existent. And as global forces drive out small regional firms, many of the producers who have managed to survive are at risk of extinction. The void between large-scale manufacture and small craftsbased making is widening, resulting in monotonous mass-produced goods and unaffordable elitist craft objects. Utilising local skills and materials enables the aesthetic and technical diversity required to establish a regional identity. Through the localised production of material we can preserve both national and global diversity. To maintain and enhance cultural identity, boost local economies and conserve the heritage and genius loci of a place, we must focus our attention not only on supporting local manufacturing but re-designing it to survive in the contemporary market. Global supply chains and networks of production are ever more advanced, resulting in increased availability of cheaper commodities for all. On the surface, this standardisation of material objects provides the societal benefits of more affordable goods for the masses. These large and wealthy companies have the opportunity to invest in more efficient and ecological methods of production which, in theory, gives them the power to reduce negative environmental impacts. Local production, on the other hand, positively im-


pacts regional communities - not only economically but also socially and culturally. The distinct economic benefits of local manufacturing cannot be quantified as easily as the financial impact of private companies moving offshore to save costs. The wide-reaching benefits affect individuals, communities, governments and the environment. Local manufacturers generate products rooted in their origins that connect the consumer with the commodity. This furthers a sense of individual responsibility for the materiality of the object, where it came from and where it will end up. This kind of influence on understanding and attitude can have an even greater global impact than making small changes to, otherwise damaging, manufacturing establishments. Advanced by the severe reduction in local manufacturing, our material world is becoming increasingly less diverse. How can we reverse this trend and bring back a heterogeneous landscape of crafts-based producers? Even the most traditional and, seemingly, indigenous crafts are infiltrated by global influences. A cross-cultural exchange of knowledge and material can benefit communities worldwide. But the only way to ensure the continuation of this exchange is to prevent the dilution of these material and immaterial nuances and protect and enhance our own individual localities. If we progress in this way, we benefit both the local and the global and it no longer has to be a case of pitting them against each other. Local vs. global becomes local for global. Projects such as


the Tilewall and, more recently, To See a World in a Grain of Sand by Atelier NL are hugely valuable in mapping this diverse potential of regionally utilised materials. Without larger initiatives that support local manufacturers, however, the potential of these materials cannot be realised in daily commodities that break free of the restraints of the cultural sphere. Projects such the Granby Four Streets by Assemble provide an agile solution to contemporary manufacturing. Working with the community to re-establish existing skills whilst teaching new ones, they created a solution that boosts the local economy and collectiveness of the place. In the small market town of Chesham, in the heart of the Chiltern Hills, where many ex-industry workers still reside, there are numerous endemic skills held within local hands that are on a path to being forgotten. Could a similar approach to the Granby Project be re-appropriated here, with alternative skills and materials to make objects that tell the story of the place - of its history but also of its future? As Christopher Frayling suggested, maybe the solution is to forge new industry networks between small crafts-based industries to create a relevant contemporary eco-system of making. If we invest in the development of these networks it may be possible to revive local manufacturing, despite the forces of globalisation. If we open our eyes to new and unfamiliar industry


relationships could it be possible that a new type of craftsmanship arises? Could we even develop new professions and new landscapes as a result? As with most specialised industries, brickmaking comes with its own specific set dilemmas. Though the value in protecting this trade on a regional scale and maintaining it as a local, rather than a global, industry is evident, it cannot be said whether it is possible to revive this, already rapidly declined, industry to its former abundance. But one thing that can be learnt from is the ingenuity of the Chiltern Hills’ brickmakers who revived the ancient wood-firing technique and continue to manufacture handmade bricks despite the demands of constant progression and increased efficiency. Capitalising on consumers’ desire for objects that reflect place, heritage and humanness – in a disconnected world lacking in identity - is what has ensured the survival of this unique brickmakers. And so, the humble, unassuming brick has once again become an icon; this time of a future for craft and industry.





DESIGNER’S NOTE As a designer operating in today’s fast-paced complex society I feel it crucial to attempt to clarify my own position within the ever-expanding field of design. Despite this thesis focusing predominantly on the de-industrialisation and centralisation of industry, specifically within the UK, it is vital to note that on large this is a global epidemic. However in my personal work I choose to reflect and react upon this issue within the bounds of my home region, the Chiltern Hills. This personal connection and deep understanding of a place, which is developed only through time and daily life experiences, is something I feel cannot be fully emulated elsewhere. The nuances and subtleties of a place that can only be truly understood through familiarity are something that I choose in this instance to seize in my design practice. Undoubtedly there are alternative benefits to working as a designer in an unfamiliar location: the ability to analyse a situation from an external and potentially more critical perspective, however in this project I choose to exploit my own personal connection and knowledge of the region to develop this thesis and further, my design project shaped by this research. To act upon the conclusions expressed in this writing I have begun to experiment with new material combinations to try to pose new brick expressions that link



to today’s contemporary regional landscape, encompassing both the natural environment and that curated by man. Mixing spent grain from the brewing industry into clay offers a brick that has the potential to use less clay, be more porous and therefore lighter in weight with more thermal insulating properties. The beer brewing industry has shown a significant revival in the Chiltern Hills in recent years and this material combination presents the possibility to link these two local industries, in a step towards re-establishing a currently diminished eco-system of manufacturers in the region. Other proposals include brick glazes made with cereal straw, collected from local arable farms, and recycled glass bottles, an abundant waste product of many pubs and restaurants that populate the region, which can create colourful and expressive covings to the brick faces. Further experimentation is in progress with human hair, sourced from local hairdressers, to create glaze patterns as well as being mixed with clay to form strocks (unfired bricks). With human population increasing globally, as well as in the Chiltern Hills, it becomes relevant to view human byproducts as a useful material resource. These proposals are intended to display diverse possibilities for material development when focusing specifically within the bounds of a local area. It is critical to understand the methodology of making presented in this specific regional case study, but also to imagine how this process could be replicated worldwide.


The physical material proposals that accompany this thesis are driven by craftsmanship and locality. As a designer with a personal background in craft, I can see that the subtleties of craftsmanship, typically neglected in mass-production, have the ability to save small-scale industries. Each individual industry possesses extensive and detailed knowledge, sometimes innately embodied within the hands and bodies of makers. Consequently the workers and craftspeople may not be able to see the potential of new material incorporations or replacements, which can often defy tradition. Therefore in my role as a designer I have the ability to alternate between immersion and distance, and so my personal reflections can become of value to established industries, such as the brickmakers. I choose to intervene directly within the processes of making and believe that by attempting to mimic the same technique as the master craftsperson, only this way can I truly intervene with great effect into the fragile and delicately constructed process of manufacture. Despite my skills in making usually being limited in comparison to the experienced craftsmen I feel it is the only way to effectively understand the process in order to make changes that are impactful and relevant. By gaining this hands on knowledge I can then step in as a designer and introduce materials from other industries that will enhance the existing materiality of the product and in turn forge new industry connections.


Perhaps these industry links will not be enough to resist the economic forces of globalisation, however I believe they can heighten the connection between product and region and therefore people’s emotional investment in that product. As shown by the increased price and market for the wood-fired bricks produced in the area, people are willing to invest in tradition, in local and handmade. This emotional response to making and bond between maker, place and consumer is what I believe can save craft-based industries.



ENDNOTES (1) Robin McKie, How the Myth of Food Miles Hurts the Planet (The Guardian, 2008) (2) Alessandro Barrico, The Barbarians: An Essay on the Mutation of Culture (Rizzoli Ex Libris, 2014) 2. (3) Gunlia Jivén and Peter J. Larkham, Sense of Place, Authenticity and Character: A Commentary (Journal of Urban Design, Vol.8, No.1: Carfax Publishing, 2003) 70-71. (4) Keith Fletcher, Peter Hawkes and Lesley Perry, Chesham at Work (Hawkes Design & Publishing, 2008). (5) Aditya Chakrabortty, Why doesn’t Britain make things anymore? (The Guardian, 2011)’t-make-things-manufacturing. (6) John Kay, How to solve the UK housing crisis (Financial Times, 2017) (7) Deliveries of bricks in Great Britain (GB) from 2013 to 2017, by month (in millions of bricks) (accessed January 29, 2018) (8) Annette Forster, Embracing the Regionality of Clay (accessed January 29, 2018) (9) Oxford English Dictionary, Vernacular (accessed January 29, 2018)


(10) Factory (Bucks New University, 2017) bucks.collections. (11) Factory (Bucks New University, 2017) bucks.collections. (12) Factory (accessed January 30, 2018) (13) George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier (Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1937) 27. (14) Orwell 36. (15) James Meek, Somerdale to Skarbimierz (London Review of Books, Vol. 39 No.8, 2017). (16) Meek. (17) The SPAB Approach (accessed January 29, 2018) www. (18) Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers (accessed 29 January, 2018) (19) Hella Jongerius, B-Set (Jongeriuslab, 1997) (20) Hella Jongerius, IKEA PS Jonsberg (Jongeriuslab, 2005) (21) Adolf Loos, The Long(ish) Read: Ornament and Crime (Ariadne Press, 1998) (22) Hella Jongerius and Louise Schouwenberg, Beyond The New. A Search For Ideals in Design (accessed 29 January, 2018) 90

(23) Manuel DeLanda, Uniformity and Variability: An Essay in the Philosophy of Matter (accessed 29 January, 2018) www. (24) DeLanda. (25) R.G. Collingwood, The Meaning of Craft, In: The Principles of Art (Clarendon Press, 1938) the-meaning-of-craft. (26) Christopher Frayling, On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus (Oberon Books, 2011) 164. (27) Frayling 82. (28) Baricco 27. (29) Orwell 109. (30) Baricco 2. (31) Atelier NL, Clay Service (2009) clay-service. (32) DeLanda. (33) Personal Interview, August 22, 2017. (34) Thomas Thwaites, The Toaster Project (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011). (35) Flax On, Flax Off (Disegno, Issue 17, 2018) (36) Meek.



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Building the Local This publication was a result of research conducted as part of the individual thesis project in the Master department Social Design at Design Academy Eindhoven (NL). With special thanks to my mentors Jan Boelen Tamar Shafrir Brecht Duijf Dick van Hoff Michael Kaethler Fabrizia Vecchione Alexandre Humbert Stephane Barbier Bouvet Graphic design guidance Ronnie Fueglister Publication date May 2018 Š Ellie Birkhead, 2018


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