Block West is a collaborative project realised in Bristol, UK by Automated Architecture (AUAR) Labs (The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL), Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC), local residents in Knowle West, Bristol and social scientist Claire McAndrew. The pavilion is the culmination of a four month-long workshop series ‘Making Together’ that investigated the potentials of automated technologies for designing and making homes.
Centered around a ‘Toolkit for Collaborative Construction’ developed by AUAR, the project introduced local residents to discrete design methodologies to develop an approach to Modern Method of Construction (MMC) methods and automation that is values-centred and localised, placing at the centre of the project the lived experiences of local people. The project strived to counteract current apprehensions about technologies such as digital fabrication that carry the perception that these technologies disadvantage communities in favour of centralised, off-site production that can be seen in the surge of MMCs for housing that are predominantly focused on factories away from their deployed context, including specially imported building crews.
Block West deals with questions around the potential of localised automation for housing production as a driver for community engagement and participation, skill development and job opportunities, thereby enhancing the lives of citizens. The design, developed in collaboration with local residents, consists of 145 blocks of AUAR’s MMC system ‘Block Type A’, which uses discrete (self-similar) building blocks made of CNC’d sheet timber connected using a mix of global and local (discrete) post-tensioning with steel rods, nuts and bolts for rapid prefabrication using simple and accessible tools.
Following 5 days of block prefabrication at KWMC’s The Factory, a manufacturing laboratory in Knowle West, the structure was erected on site in five days by the team and local residents. Opening on 12 September, a diverse public programme will take place at Block West over September and October 2020, planned in line with current Covid-19 regulations. Under the umbrella of ‘Occupy and Adapt’, Block West will house a range of activities, becoming a place to innovate and experiment, have conversations and debate, follow talks on automation, meet and eat, and learn in workshops.