Tradition innovation

Traditional materials and innovative design

The character of rural environments like Dorset are appreciated for both their natural beauty and for the built environment that has been historically created from it. From the beauty of Portland and Purbeck limestones used for detailing Georgian houses, to the earthy cob and bricks made from Fullers Earth, Oxford, Gault and Kimmeridge Clays, to the flint courses among houses in the chalk uplands. However in a globalised economy traditional materials are now in competition with other, often imported, materials which are cheaper, easier to manufacture or have more advantageous intrinsic properties, thermally or in terms of water resistance. In spite of this sustainability agendas have forced a rethink about how traditional materials can be re-invented by looking at the whole life cost of production (factoring into the cost of its carbon footprint and the material’s longevity as well as the manufacturer’s price per unit). Sometimes this means looking back towards traditional techniques such as straw bale housing or timber frame building and how can these ancient materials and methods be reinterpreted for a new age. Likewise new, or recycled, materials are being invented that have excellent whole life credentials but need development into attractive, and functional, forms or structures.

Artists, and particularly craftspeople who have a special knowledge of materials, offer both wide ranging thinking on these subjects and particular expertise which can contribute to designs for both urban and rural environments and benefit local economies, e.g. agriculture, manufacturing or creative industries. This could be achieved by:

  • Addressing the aesthetic value of new materials, e.g. blending energy efficient materials with local materials
  • Looking at the psychological and physiological impact of new and old materials in the built environment
  • Developing new processes for refining, manufacturing or processing traditional materials to meet current standards
  • Utilising, or making apparent local geological or agriculture products in the landscape e.g. in roads, bridges or buildings.

Theme case studies

Common places


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