Materials & Place

This project, known as the design thesis, is the culminating piece of work for the masters degree at the Welsh School of Architecture. On the surface it may appear unusual in it’s choice of materials and ulitmate resolution, but this is due to it being the final project I would work on from a purely academic stance and I was keen to push boundaries, experiment and enjoy the opportunities of a purely conceptual design.

This project was centred around the market town of Leominster, Herefordshire and examined themes of materials and place.

Leominster boasts an abundance of medieval timber framed buildings and is home to a 13th century Benedictine Priory, yet the town suffers from a heavy sense of placelessness and very little civic pride.

Nikolaus Pevsner described Leominster as “two things, a town of c.6500 inhabitants, and what remains of the priory, and - visually - the two never meet.” This is a problem which persists today, with the issue running deeper since the addition of a large industrial estate to the town.

The goal of this project was to investigate the trades located within the industrial estate and examine methods of incorporating them into a new vernacular for the town.

One of the largest manufacturers and employers in Leominster is a factory located on the very edge of the industrial estate which produces LDPE plastic film. The factory is generally seen as a nuisance by locals but the production process is actually quite spectacular and involves extruding plastic into a large balloon before cooling the material and rolling it onto spools.

The factory runs 24/7 and the material produced is primarily used for silage bale wrap. Such large quantities are generated each year that it is likely that a wrapped silage bale seen in Britain is wrapped in plastic produced in Leominster. As such, this thesis argued that LDPE plastic film is inadvertently the primary material of the town.

An initial investigation was undertaken in order to properly understand the capabilities of the material. This culminated in a piece called the ‘constructed fragment’ which was installed on site in Leominster and presented to a number of guest critics including locals. The piece comprised several elements and intended to present the material as something which was recognisably part of the town by mimicking local timber framed constructions. It was additionally a chance to experiment with different methods of manipulating the material. The most successful of which were achieved when the plastic was treated as a fabric and was altered using techniques commonly used for embroidery.

The intended site for development was at the fringe point between the industrial estate and the medieval town. This also fell next to the train station and would provide a new gateway into Leominster.

The ultimate architectural resolution of this project was to propose a new civic centre or market hall which was generated almost entirely using material available in the industrial estate in a form derived from the existing character of the town.

The scheme also provided a new home for the town’s already thriving market.

An additional consideration which could not be overlooked with this material is its obvious negative sustainability.
As such, another major point for investigation was how the town would change if it were to take responsibility for its produce and how it would be affected if the all plastic was returned to Leominster after use in the agricultural industry.

Building on recent research that demonstrated that mealworms were capable of biodigesting polystyrene, a batch of mealworms were fed Leominster plastic and it was observed that the worms consumed the plastic readily.

There are many benefits to this process as on top of effectively breaking the embodied energy of the material, the worms excretions may be used as a fertiliser and the worms themselves are a good source of protein often used as feed for poultry. In order to effectively consume all the plastic produced within Leominster, it was proposed to fill existing brown field sites with banks of mealworm farms.

The final element which received a more thorough investigation was the aforementioned market hall. The building was intended to fit between the contrasting parts of Leominster through its location, construction and form.

The building replicates the traditional architecture of a market hall but is presented in materials available within the industrial estate, most notably recycled LDPE plastic which forms the facade. This is achieved by using an embroidery technique known and smocking to give it form and then weaving the structure within.

The proposal also includes a spire housing a smaller bank of mealworm farms which serves as a visual representation of the volumes of plastic the town exports and what is required to combat it. The mealworms housed in the spire are capable of consuming the same quantity of plastic used in the market hall in a day.

Physical model making was a key tool within the development of the project due to the unusual choice of materials used and the experimental construction. Testing by hand was therefore required before any kind of drawing could be made.