Established in 2005, "Studio in the Woods" is an ongoing education and research project founded and is convened by Piers Taylor (Invisible Studio) with Kate Darby (Kate Darby Architects), Meredith Bowles (Mole) and Gianni Botsford (Gianni Botsford Architects) as a vehicle to test ideas through making at 1:1. Each year, the architects are joined by a small number of practitioners and academics to lead workshops with students over 3 or 4 days in summer time.
As the workshop is partly a challenge - being able to design and build a studio in just three days - the organizers of "Studio in the Woods" change context quite frequently, also pursuing the idea that designs rely upon and are influenced by different environments, adapting to it. The quality of woods, of the landscape, the vibe of a specific place become the guidelines and the restrains for every single workshop. Since 2005 the research project has taken place in a number of different locations around the UK including the woodlands managed as part of the Invisible Studio Project, where "Studio in the Woods" started.
In 2018, "Studio in the Woods" decamped to the Wyre Forest and was hosted by the Wyre Community Land Trust with funding provided by the Guild of St George with additional funding from the Ruskin in Wyre HLF project as part of a strategy to explore future uses for the timber from the Wyre Forest. It is here that Jim Stephenson was invited to document the process underlining the workshop.
Through the use of drones, interviews and collective shots, Stephenson documents each phase of the "Studio in the Woods" exercise: once the groups are formed, students and tutors visit the various sites of construction and discuss about the potentiality and the constrains they will need to face, considerating the materials they will use and the overall concept of studio. As the conversation progresses, they start to make mock-ups and eventually to build. It is incredible to see how each construction differs from the others, how every group expresses an idea, a concept, a way of building and using wood which is peculiar and specific to their backgrounds and aspirations. And as Katy Darby smartly notices: it is unbelievable how a project can grow almost overnight (they takes 2 to 3 days to be built), when a standard project by an architecture studio takes years to be completed.
Says Piers Taylors in a note on Invisible Studio's website: "Astonishing as it may seem, most architecture Students have limited contact with real materials or construction and instead operate in a kind of parallel universe where projects are imagined in abstract at scale in a kind of weird digital code space, a space where ad hoc, inventive and impromptu decision making is excluded from the design process. Studio in the Woods began as a reaction to this about 12 years ago, but didn’t begin with a manifesto – I simply asked the cleverest and most interesting architects I knew if they fancied coming down to the woods around my house to make some stuff with some students over one long hot weekend in July. To a certain degree, I’m always slightly nervous of premeditating too much, and taking a cue from Dylan, we just threw the cards up in the air to see where they landed".
What is remarkable here is the idea of grouping together, of cooperation as driving force, of workshop as a subversive practice that can reestablish a relationship with nature and with the "real thing" behind the design. As Piers Taylors puts it "the joy of the happy accident; the intensity of bringing something to a conclusion in a short space of time; the visceral thrill of materials, and of timber". Then-collaborator for a series of conversation on architecture (watch "Sunlight" with Gianni Botsford, here present among the founders), Jim Stephenson captures the vibe around the workshop, integrating it with the wise words of the architects behind the project and… with the sounds of the construction sites.(Story by Sara Marzullo, The Architecture Player)