Our design team has a track record of producing award-winning, contextually specific buildings based on regenerative design principles, for both public and private clients. Our work demonstrates bio-based materials can produce generous, robust and beautiful spaces, and we work with clients to support informed decision-making about the whole-life time impact of their project, working across the project stages from brief development through to overseeing construction.
Our not-for-profit Lab supports public, private and third sector lead research working towards a lower carbon construction industry in the UK, with a focus on regenerative material sourcing and circular economies. Our projects address the barriers to change, from land-use and policy constraints to technical and material challenges in supply chains and on site. We deliver strategic planning, regenerative system design, material research and product development.
We work with developers and housebuilders to integrate regenerative construction principles and off-site production into large scale housing projects. Drawing from our industry leading research and development we deliver whole building and systems designs. Our interdisciplinary team brings design, supply chain, manufacturing and material science expertise together to produce fully specified, regionally specific Building Information Models (BIM) available at digital twin resolution.
Our work investigates how material and industrial cultures shape the world and challenges the regulations, supply chains and processes that to a large extent prescribe how the buildings we inhabit are made, function and feel. We think this can change and needs to change at speed. Modern methods of construction have the capacity to transform the way in which things are built and offer the space to generate new forms of culture in the construction industry.
Through our work we have demonstrated that low carbon local materials can be more affordable and durable than globally-sourced, petrochemical-derivative materials, and are capable of comfortably meeting and outperforming industry standards.
The material resources on which our futures are dependent - softwood timber, stone, clay, lime, plant fibres and shiv - can be grown and sourced across the UK and their production is low intensity. As reducing embodied carbon in the construction industry becomes necessary, and as oil prices rise and we look towards a post brexit economy the UK will need to rebuild its manufacturing economy and crucially make commitments to a low carbon approach.
In the UK current architectural languages predominantly belong to a lineage that is born from cis white male cultures. The fact that it is so hard for us to think and design beyond these languages is in part due to the fact that they are now embedded in the vocabulary of components, products, and regulations that frame architectural possibility. Our work explores the potential for a new architectural language to emerge through and from direct contact with materials and the processes of making and a creative interpretation of the regulations.
Construction and maintenance presently accounts for over 40% of total UK carbon emissions. 11% of the industry’s carbon emissions are derived from the manufacture of materials. Current housing models depend on large amounts of high-energy materials, mass-manufactured overseas, with short lifespans. If we are to halt the progress of ecological breakdown we need to radically rethink the logic of current construction methods, the materials we use and our approach to growth. In doing so it is likely that we will need to both recover some of our forgotten technologies and develop entirely new forms of architectural language.
In this context we have established Material Cultures – an organisation which brings together design, research and action towards a post carbon built environment. Inherently integrative, the design-led research project intersects material science, engineering, systems thinking, digital technologies and architectural design with a direct, active and practical approach. We aim to co-opt the factory as a place of creativity rather than mass homogeneity.
We are interested in developing qualitative prototypical buildings, which are sustainable, economically viable, and positively impact their inhabitant’s lives through considered design and accessible adaptability. We develop building typologies which touch lightly on the ground. In a climate in which warranties dictate design, and the nature of construction contracts limit quality, Material Cultures seeks to redistribute the priorities of the construction process in favour of design and sustainability.
Summer Islam AADipl (hons) ARB is a founding Director of Material Cultures. Summer is an architect, educator and researcher. Her work is focussed on the holistic integration of design, construction technology, policy and strategy. Summer carries out research at the University of the Arts London and the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). She has also taught at the University College London, the London Metropolitan University and the University of Cambridge. Summer recently published a ground-breaking research project for the region of Yorkshire and the North East in the UK; a study of the feasibility of biobased and circular construction across the region which explores the economic and ecological impact of a radical material transition for the entire supply chain of the construction industry.
Paloma Gormley MA (Cantab) is a founding Director of Material Cultures. She is an internationally acclaimed designer responsible for a series of celebrated architectural and urban projects. Her work is rooted in an understanding of material technology and construction, underpinned by an appreciation of haptic knowledge and collaborative processes. Paloma is an experienced educator and researcher, and currently co-runs 'Construction in Detail' in the Spatial Studies department at the University of the Arts London. Previously she has taught at the Bartlett, University College London and the London Metropolitan University. Paloma has led on a number of significant demonstrator projects and is currently developing a 90 unit residential development in Lewes, Sussex.
George Massoud AA Dipl ARB RIBA is a Director at Material Cultures. George is an architect, educator and cultural worker. He is interested in how we can build a future rooted in mutual interdependence with the various ecologies that shape our built environment. This underlying philosophy is explored in the spaces he occupies as a practitioner: in the studio, in the classroom and in the community. In practice, George has extensive experience working on a range of arts projects, complex refurbishments and commercial developments. George is Unit Master at the Architectural Association, exploring how alternative social ecologies are shaped through material and spatial politics. He is also producer and founding member of POA, a feminist, queer community platform for reimagining value systems.
The new thatch architecture and sustainability culture
2021, Fourth Door Books
Radical Architecture of the Future,
This is Temporary:
How transient projects redefining architecture
Cate St Hill
2017, RIBA Publishing
New Architects 3, Britain’s Best Emerging Practices,
The Architecture Foundation
Restaurant Design and Food Experiences
R. Klanten, S. Ehmann, S. Moreno
Eleanor Young, The RIBA Journal
A new sustainability paradigm
Michael Pawlyn, Domus
Make low-tech our mantra and design clean and simple
Edmund Fowles, The RIBA Journal
In Practice: Material Cultures on decarbonising construction
The Architecture Review
The tyranny of concrete and its costly carbon footprint
Layli Foroudi, The Financial Times
Can design solve the housing Crisis?
Tracy Ingram, Frame Magazine
How can low-tech and natural materials help avert the climate emergency?
Pamela Buxton, The RIBA Journal
Prototype for a plant-based future
Icon Magazine, UK
Unit 7 Students At The London Metropolitan University, Polyvalent Studio
Brand New Heroes
From Farm to Form: Flat house by Practice Architecture
Architect’s Journal, UK
Brand New Heroes
Elle, United Kingdom
Flat House by Practice Architecture and Material Cultures
Flat House:A small building proposes a radical – and necessary – rethink of the construction industry
Architecture Today, UK
British Architects build a low-carbon home using hemp
New Atlas, UK
Zero-carbon home uses hemp fibre for innovative design
Hemp is used on the inside and out of Cambridgeshire’s Flat House
Rowan Moore’s Best Architecture of 2019
The Observer, UK
Home made of hemp that will blow your mind
The Observer, UK
Zero Carbon hemp house complete
Construction Management Magazine
Unit 15, Regent Studios, 8 Andrews Road, London E8 4QN