In this Ones to Watch interview, the founders of London- and Cardiff-based Caukin Studio discuss why they strive for a more equitable workforce in construction, how local vernacular informs their design and what community consultation means for ownership amongst end users.
Canada, the UK and Indonesia: these are the countries the founding members of Caukin Studio hail from, which the firm’s name references. Joshua Peasley, Harrison Marshall and Harry Thorpe met while studying architecture and it was while working on realizing their first real project – ‘as a group of enthusiastic, naively ambitious students’ – that they experienced the rich exchange of knowledge that comes from working with end users and local materials, logistics and construction approaches. It’s what triggered their continued collaboration, which is defined by an effort to thread a positive social, environmental or economic impact into all projects, no matter how charitable or commercial the brief.
From our partners:
The core team behind Caukin Studio (f.l.t.r.): Cassie Li, Joshua Peasley, Harrison Marshall and Harry Thorpe.
You hope to change the face of the built environment by demonstrating that an organization can balance profit with purpose, considering its impact in equal measure to its financial goals. Can you elaborate?
JOSHUA PEASLEY: The global built environment sector is notorious for being behind on issues like diversity and gender equality. This is often emphasized in developing contexts. We take pride in leading by example to tackle some of these issues; both in the way we approach projects (with a stakeholder lead structure) and in our employment practices. We believe that any project, no matter how charitable or commercial, should have a considered strategy for social or environmental impact. This strategy is designed in and agreed to from the beginning by the team of project stakeholders and comes from a researched understanding of the larger impact goals within the country, region or built sector. We are striving to effect meaningful change utilizing the process of design and construction to build capacity, educate and share skills and knowledge through workshops and training. In terms of employment practices, we strive to achieve an equal split of male and female workforces across our sites and often achieve more than a 50 per cent split of women in construction.
Cover and above: To realize the Shiyala Kindergarten in Zambia (also shown in title image), 22 international participants from architecture and engineering schools and practices worked alongside members of the local community. Brick piers terminate into a raised plinth to protect the kindergarten from flooding, while hit and miss masonry work allows for natural ventilation.
Community consultation is a big aspect of your work. Why do you believe it contributes to creating spaces that are more socially sustainable?
HARRY THORPE: For us, it’s vital that the end users of the buildings we design are also their co-creators. Community consultation throughout the design process encourages ownership within end users and therefore increases the likelihood that a project is well utilized, looked after and adapted after our involvement has come to an end. Community participation also means that we can design spaces that are far better suited to their end users’ specific needs and so therefore can provide better value for money. Their expert knowledge in the way the buildings will be used and the processes that will occur in the future are pivotal to its successful longevity. Additionally, the construction process plays a big part in building social sustainability, often with many members of the local community contributing on site and off site in different ways.
PHOTOS: KATIE EDWARDS
Developed alongside Caukin studio, the Fiji-based Urata Look Out Café – a collaboration between the Urata Village Community and Savusavu Rotary Club – aims to stimulate domestic tourism and generate a sustained income for the village people. Thanks to the timber portal frame structure, elements could be prefabricated down in the village before being transported to the site and craned into place.
How can spatial design contribute to social change?
HT: From our experience the biggest area for spatial design to create social change, across all typologies, is through the considered and sustained effort towards equality of input. Through spending all the time necessary to understand the needs of all potential users, from their own perspectives, not through second or third hand sources. Starting from this position of parity can really help to identify areas of subconscious hierarchies and biases that exist within a context. In addition to this, another general ethos point of our spatial approach is in creating uplifting, inspiring spaces. Helping to nurture positivity and generate positive core memories is key in our work. We hope that through designing and delivering innovative spaces, with integrity, we can add to a copycat culture of good design.
How do you ensure you design appropriately for the climatic issues in the areas in which you build?
JP: We’ve worked in a number of locations across the globe, each with their own unique climates and climatic issues, ranging from earthquakes, to cyclones, to flash flooding. We recognize that our expertise only goes so far when it comes to designing for these constraints and so, we collaborate with specific experts to ensure that our designs can overcome some of these issues. An example of this was on the Ranwas School in Vanuatu – located in a village that has extremely high humidity levels, within a cyclonic region of the South Pacific. We were tasked with designing a classroom and library which could withstand the obvious structural challenge of the cyclones whilst also overcoming the moisture and condensation, causing the school issues with their learning materials. We partnered with Dr. Vicki Stevenson and Dr. Eshrar Latif (course leads of the MSc Environmental Design of Buildings at Cardiff University) to come up with a design that naturally heated the space via the sun, lowering the internal relative humidity whilst increasing the natural ventilation, drawing the moisture rich air out of the space. Since its completion, we’ve been monitoring the moisture levels and the library has been showing a 20 per cent reduction in moisture levels to other spaces around the school.
PHOTOS: KATIE EDWARDS
Caukin’s design for the maternity centre at the Bukasakya Level 3 Health Centre in the Mbale district of Uganda utilizes entirely locally sourced materials and aims to reduce the building’s embodied carbon through the use of natural materials including timber and unfired earth bricks.
Your projects span the globe. Are there certain design approaches that you feel are currently quite specific to a space, but could and should be adopted more widely?
HT: Due to the nature of our work in international development projects, working in remote locations and with local craftspeople, we are attuned to approaching design briefs with low-tech solutions in mind. Often our projects will start out by looking at the vernacular style and the way in which locally available materials have been used in response to their social, environmental and economic contexts. Of course, when greater budgets are available and more complex briefs arise, designers may look towards the technologies available to solve problems, however we feel there is still a lot to be said for maintaining that low-tech approach initially.
PHOTO: KATIE EDWARDS, KUNG PHOTOGRAPHS
The building that Caukin studio designed for the Centre for Community Development and Social Entrepreneurship in Bogor, Indonesia, can function as a space for community events and training days as well as a Mushola (prayer room).
JP: We try to design spaces that sit well within their context, while still pushing local standards, spatial aspirations and material possibilities. We place a priority in only designing with materials that are available locally – pushing ourselves to be innovative with what is available. This is important in ensuring that any designs or details can be replicated by the community after the project has been completed, which wouldn’t be a possibility if we import materials from elsewhere. Tying back to the notion of true collaboration and stakeholder ownership, this type of approach relies heavily on an open and democratic design process that engages the local community, harnessing their local expert knowledge.
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