Amongst Materials

Structural systems vary from city to city, depending on material costs, regulations, and trends.  Construction techniques determine interior finishes. Housing is sold through interior renderings, their aesthetics are invariably similar. Across all examples, interiors look the same. 

London’s construction scene is dominated by steel; Santiago’s and Shanghai/Suzhou’s by concrete for medium to high rise, with some steel-based prefabrication for low rise. The use of structural timber is rare (none of the examples do) and is considered risky. Some regulations have made the choice of timber even more difficult. For instance, London banned exposed wood for residential use after the Grenfell Tower disaster. The predominance of steel and concrete for construction proves little acknowledgement of current discussions on carbon footprint. 

Alternative material investigations should explore more energy efficient solutions so as to provide for a wider range of material possibilities and construction techniques.

Design Operations


By exploring technologies that have been left aside in housing construction – timber and rammed earth – these projects diminish the carbon footprint both during construction and throughout the life of the building. By incorporating sustainable materials, common residential types could be fundamentally reorganised (from the structural grid to the units, their circulation, services etc.). The material choice can impact every scale of housing production. 

Project Descriptions

20-Timber/ “Tartan Frame” -London

The tartan grid structure creates a space in between rooms, allocating services, wet areas, and circulation. 

The tartan grid timber frame structural system reorganises the fixed and flexible components of the original live-work units. The three dimensional double grid reorganizes visual and functional links within the flat and between the building and the city.

Original Project: 81-87 Weston Street by Solid Space, London

21-Rammed Earth/ “Down to Earth”  -London

The rammed earth estate appears below street level, making use of the excavated earth as its main source of building material. 

The original site was reimagined as a self-built co-operative development where the structural grid serves both as a cadastral map and an indicative masterplan defining circulation routes and squares. The rammed earth development also increases energy efficiency, and minimises the environmental impact of the construction.

Original Project: Highgate Newtown Estate, Peter Tabory, London.