This summer I spent eight hot days in rolling farmland a few hours from Lake Balaton in rural Hungary. Up a farm track, amidst a matrix of huge fields was a triangle of land which became, over just a few days, a real community, mostly created from scratch by the people who lived and worked there. The idea – originated by the team of architects and designers – was to create a village, designed, made and occupied by those involved in its construction – an experiment in rapid self-made development using simple materials but based on complex and sophisticated ideas of creativity, community, and habitation. Although the village was made in just a week, the process began much earlier when the Budapest-based HELLO WOOD team sent out a call for designers to apply to take part in their summer workshop project asking them to pitch an installation they would like to see realised as a contribution to this ‘instant’ village. Design teams suggested concepts, methodologies and prototype drawings at various stages of realisation all within the prime restriction that they had to be completed in one week using a labour force of students of unknown skill levels. After the teams were selected and advertised, students applied to take part making their own pitch for each individual project. At the beginning of July the HELLO WOOD team arrived on site, and for a week helped set up the infrastructure that would enable nearly 200 people to live on the remote site in relative comfort – a kitchen, sleeping huts and showers. Central to the site was a community barn which would be the location for all meetings, meals, and the ambitious lecture and discussion programme that would take place each evening. And there was entertainment… live music, a bar that seemingly never closed, parades, dancing, and an international soccer tournament (involving the participants).
Some design teams had been to HELLO WOOD before and some were new to the project, but this time the ambition was greater than ever before – to make a real community which over this short period would knit itself together through doing and making. Although many design teams had developed plans for what they wanted to achieve, most had not identified a site, and so one of the early tasks was a series of negotiations to establish who built what and where – the ambition always to relate the projects into a community setting. Though the thinking may have begun months before, this was a new stage in that process where real effort had to be put in by both designers and students (now builders) who had to learn new skills. In architecture schools the focus is on assembling experience and knowledge, which although engaged with the creation of built form, is primarily removed from the practicality of how it is actually achieved. Students are asked to design spaces and places which they may be able to appreciate as abstract form, but they can only speculate at in terms of the technology that is most appropriate for their realisation. Some make the effort to work in the building industry when not studying, and though this is of value, they are still mostly removed from design decisions. When they begin in architectural practice, they may if fortunate be taken to site to experience the meetings and inspections that are so crucial in realising the design as intended, however, it is a voyeuristic process. Building, real building were the student is working physically on site learning how to use the tools and materials involved in the creation of a building in which they also have a deep understanding of the design ambition is a rare experience. At HELLO WOOD that is what happens. A week of 10 hour days, 70+ hours hands-on working as a team, taking a building from the ground to topping out and occupation.
And these are not just sheds and shelters but structures with architectural ambition, that the designers are keen to see realised as a rare example of what they can achieve with an unfettered if not unrestricted design brief. The buildings and landscapes created during that hot summer week in rural Hungary were not just practical artefacts but imbued with symbol, meaning and purpose. Buildings and structures that responded to site and climate, function and materiality, human need and desire. For a new beginner architect to connect the three aspects of architecture (firmness, commodity and delight) they need to have first-hand experience of the complete process that leads to success – thinking, doing, making. The HELLO WOOD experience, with all its frustrations, fatigue, achievements and elation, provides an intensive opportunity for this.