Social matter, social design. Curated by Jan Boelen and Michael Kaethler. Published by Valiz

Ellie Birkhead's essay can be found in the extract, Humble beginnings: earth, clay and minerals.

Here is a short extract: 

But despite small shifts in the size of the brick, it has never strayed far from its hand size modular form. Through thousands of years its geometric shape has allowed for an endless array of structures to be built, from rows of modest Victorian terrace homes, to great grand landmarks such as the iconic Buddhist temples of Myanmar. Perhaps the enduring success of the form of the brick is not it’s own identity, but in fact it’s lack of identity. The brick itself does not define architecture; it gives the designer agency to create an infinite possibility of structures than can be moulded to fit into countless cultural landscape, whilst its hand-size shape ensures a humanness and readability to each construction.

Building the Local, Thesis by Ellie Birkhead

Local production leads to diversity. It seems contradictory to say that by sticking to our roots we expand the diversity of our world. But I will explain why: when we focus specifically on what is around us and when each manufacturer uses the materials in their very own space we create variety. Taking the UK as an example of a small country with somewhat limited resources it is known that around every 25 miles you travel across the country the geology of the earth changes, from chalk to clay to granite to slate. And even if you take only one material, such as clay, the colour and the properties vary between each deposit across the country, which forces new production methods to be born. So as shown in the work of Atelier NL, and explained in the writings of Alessandro Baricco, “every clod contains the whole field, if you know how to read it”, if we all try to deeply understand our own piece of earth, yet share with others but not allow our own to be diluted maybe we can create a world revived from the standardisation and dulling of goods across our planet.


This is an extract from Ellie Birkhead's MA Social Design thesis, in association with the project Building the Local.

To read the full text click here 

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