Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

Legacy funds Dorset’s unique woodland college

THE ARCHITECTURAL Association’s biggest ever legacy will help to fund new buildings and a new MA course at Hooke Park College near Beaminster.

The Horace and Ellen Hannah Wakeford Bequest is meant to encourage the return of a kind of experimental and eco-friendly craftsmanship.

The first graduate students on the Association’s new Design and Make course will arrive this autumn – and West Dorset will then be able to boast Britain’s first campus devoted to alternative uses for wood.

As was first reported on Real West Dorset earlier this year, the Architectural Association has been given outline planning consent for staff and students to design and put up more than a dozen new buildings in the 350 acres of Hooke Park.

The forest already has several unique buildings from the 1980s and the 1990s, when it was controlled by the Beaminster furniture maker and designer John Makepeace; others have been constructed this century by visiting AA students.

There is nowhere else quite like it.

The Hooke Park Workshop, by Richard Burton of ABK and Frei Otto, with the engineers Buro Happold. The building uses spruce thinnings from Hooke Forest to form a compression grid-shell structure. Completed in 1989. Two of the three bays of the roof accommodate a large fully equipped timber workshop, the third contains an office-studio with computing facilities and a small library. Photograph by Valerie Bennett.

A Separate Place. A hanging retreat in Hooke Forest built in 2007 during a month-long summer workshop by a student group led by Jesse Randzio. Photo by Jesse Randzio.

The AA is the world’s most renowned and influential school of architecture, set up 162 years ago.

The Hooke Park vision is – and I quote – “to combine the global experience and talent of the world’s most international architectural school with that of local craftspeople, whose wood-working, building, boat-making and other skills [will help] to create a unique new setting for architectural education.” 

It will be hands-on, back to nature.

In other words, as the editorial puts it in the new issue of Crafts magazine, “it aims to re-introduce craft skills into practice… Do we detect a backlash against the computer-led funny-shapism which has dominated the [architectural] profession for the last 15 years.”

Hooke is supposed to reflect the idea that if you’ve physically put something together yourself, you’ll better understand why buildings stand up or fall down.

Hence, perhaps, the Wakeford Bequest, given by the family of Norah Garlick in the name of Norah’s parents, Horace and Ellen Hannah Wakeford. Horace Wakeford’s building firm was a favourite of Sir Edwin Lutyens. The company continues today as Stepnell Ltd, which has an office in Poole.

Brett Steele, Director of the AA School of Architecture, said in a statement: “We are enormously grateful to Norah Garlick and her family, who share our vision of a woodland campus dedicated to fostering a re-connection between hand-on design and construction cultures as a path forward towards new ways of thinking, working and building.

“The Horace and Ellen Hannah Wakeford Bequest is an unprecedented commitment to not only the AA, for which we are deeply appreciative, but also demonstrates great optimism in our open experimentation with not only new kinds of architecture, but as well, new forms of teaching and learning.”

The Crossings Project, completed in 2007. An experimental footbridge within Hooke Forest. An AA student-built project led by Valentin Bontjes van Beek and Nathalie Rozencwajg. Photograph by Martin Self.