In March 2021 the Brickfield team were delighted to be awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £9,900 for Brickfield BUILD, a project that has enabled the team and their project partners to explore the relevance of the heritage craft of hand brickmaking in creating a more sustainable future.

Brickfield has a long-term goal to empower and enable communities to draw on the history and heritage of brickmaking in the region and build things that will improve their local environment and their feeling of belonging within it. Brickfield BUILD is an important step towards that goal.

Rosanna Martin, Brickfield’s artistic director says “I’m so excited to have the opportunity to bring the heritage of brickmaking in Cornwall to life with this new project and following the work we have done with John Osborne. It’s our first chance to explore what we can build with the bricks everyone has made, and the melting pot of ideas created by bringing the different groups together is going to be fascinating!”

The BUILD project has involved creating a diverse intergenerational network around the heritage craft of brickmaking that includes people with dementia, their families and carers, youth groups and youth workers, bricklaying students, building professionals and architecture students and lecturers, as well as members of the general public.

The core programme of activity involved working closely together with Falmouth University Architecture course leader Tom Ebdon, senior lecturer, Toby Carr and the Sensory Trust’s creative dementia expert, Ellie Robinson Carter. Together the project team developed and facilitated a co-design process between Falmouth’s Masters in Architecture students and The Happy Wanderers, an intergenerational dementia friendly walking group local to St Austell and supported by the Sensory Trust. The aim of this process was to come up with designs for new brick structures to be situated in the environment that would enhance the Happy Wanderers experience of walking together in clay country.

Working in teams the students designed creative activities for the Happy Wanderers that would give them the opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings and responses to walking in the landscape. Activity packs were sent by post and connections were developed through phone conversations.

The students incorporated the responses from the Happy Wanderers into their design development and at the end of this phase there were four proposals on the table. The project team had to make the tricky decision about which two of these would ahead to prototype stage in the BUILD week. This was a complex decision involving considerations of: the extent to which students had reflected on an incorporated participants ideas into their designs; structural viability; use of experimental and sustainable building methods; and last, but definitely not least, the likelihood of a team of students being physically able to build the structure in less than a week!

The first design concept selected was a four arched structure creating a dome shaped shelter and gathering space for users; the second was a seating concept involving two elongated curved forms rising gradually from the ground, providing protection from the wind and enabling users to sit facing each other while maintaining a view through the landscape.

In April 2021 the architecture students and staff came to work on site at Brickfield to learn hands on building skills in brickmaking, bricklaying and sustainable lime mortars and with the ultimate aim of working in teams to construct the two selected designs. They started the week walking in the landscape, learning about the history and heritage of brickmaking from John Osborne, and learning how to mix clay and hand make bricks. This was followed by a bricklaying workshop delivered by local builder and bricklover, Derren Wilson, and techncial demonstrations and a workshop on the use of lime in building construction delivered by the Cornish Lime Company.

On day 3 the students were able to start work on their protoype brick structures.

The group of students working on the curved seating structure employed an innovative approach to bricklaying using VR technlogy which enabled them to create their design to scale in 3D software and project it onto the physical site. The person wearing the VR goggles was able to see the full scale model in the physical space and direct the other students on where to place the bricks. This technique proved to be really effective for creating a structure with complex curves as well as enabling the students to work more quickly and confidently with their bricklaying.

The group working on the arch structure trialled an interesting foundation system using old tyres fill with rocks. This involved them in digging into the surface of the gravel pit revealing a table of water just a couple of feet below the surface. The arched structure was techncially challenging for inexperienced bricklayers and involved making and erecting a plywood support structure that would eventually be taken away.

The students worked with huge amounts of enthusiasm and energy on the two structures and luckily for everyone the weather was glorious! At the end of the week they were close to completing both structures – a phenomenal outcome given the timeframe – and had certainly done enough for us to be able to reflect on the forms and show what they had done to the Happy Wanderers.  We were all tremendously proud of what they had achieved. Here are a some of the comments we collected from students at the end of the week:

I learned a lot and really enjoyed mixing new technology with traditional craft – amazed with the result!                                                      

Learning about Cornwall’s brick history has been really inspiring and will definitely influence my design work as an architect.

“Loved every minute of it, being hands on is very beneficial as an architecture student.”

In May a small group of The Happy Wanderers visited the site to see what the students had made. This gathering was supported by members of the Sensory Trust and Brickfield teams. The people who came had been isolated as a result of Covid 19. It was the first time they had been outside in a long time and they were very happy to be together in the landscape again.  They were delighted and impressed with the structures and could see how the students had developed their ideas through their creative interactions with them.

Alongside this co-design activity between the architecture students and the Happy Wanderers, the Brickfield team continued to work with other local communities delivering brickmaking workshops for Young People Cornwall’s Youth Groups, Cornwall College Bricklaying students, Charlestown History Group and Trinity Church Community from St Austell. YPC’s young women’s group came onsite at Brickfield while the architecture students were working. Members of this group then also attended two other outreach workshops and were supported by the Brickfield team to demonstrate their new skills in brickmaking to other young participants.

Comments from project participants

“yeh it was interesting learning about the history and making bricks. I thought it was a lot of labour just to get one brick and that’s how they used to do it. I think that it’s good that you’re trying to bring it back. Now we use industrial bricks that are made in their thousands, but in the older days they didn’t have that and it’s just interesting isn’t it.”

“I thought I liked bricks, now I know I love them”

“Yes, 1000000000%” (on being asked if they’d like to make more bricks)

“Thanks for a fantastic experience it has been a lot of fun.”

“Really enjoyed it, great working outside and being physically involved”

“Just lovely. Such a rich heritage needs to be spread to a wider audience”

“It was good seeing stuff in Cornwall that I’ve never seen before and learning about the history of it. I had no idea how a brick was made and I thought it was more made by machines and not like handmade, but obviously they were!”

“Glad the skill is being passed on”

“What a great experimental site. We’ve all learned so much working hands on and with local materials”

Brickfield is a community brickworks based in a disused clay pit in the heart of Cornwall’s china clay country created by ceramic artist Rosanna Martin in 2019 with the support of Whitegold, the creative arm of the Austell Project and IMERYS, St Austell’s China Clay producers.

The Brickfield team consists of lead artist, Rosanna Martin who innovatively combines knowledge of ceramic materials and an exploration of traditional techniques with socially engaged projects; two local ceramicists, Bobi MacFadzean and Zenna Tagney; the legendary John Osborne, aka the last surviving brickmaker in St Austell; and Katie Bunnell, curator and ceramic artist.

Brickfield BUILD project partners are Falmouth University’s Architecture courses, Sensory Trust who support the Happy Wanderers, Young People Cornwall, Trinity Church, Cornwall College and Charlestown History Group.

The Brickfield team are immensely grateful to all their project partners for their support for this amazing project.  It has benefited everyone involved in a multitude of ways. We have developed our knowledge and understanding of local heritage, learned new skills, worked creatively together in teams and just simply enjoyed being outside together outside in the clay country landscape.

It’s an amazing journey that we are planning to continue. We are currently exploring possibilities for taking one of these prototypes to the next level: building a working design in the local landscape.

The bricks used in the architecture students’ prototype structures were kindly donated by Michel Mersch. Our intention is that any structure that we build will be made with hand bricks and that we will come together to as a Brickfield community to make them!

With special thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund.

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