We began our material research last week, through the construction of a large-scale structure on site, and a visit to Dehradun’s Forest Research Institute. Built by the British in the early 1900s, the Institute is housed in a vast neoclassical building in a large parkland on the edge of the city. The exhibits inside were a slightly bizarre mix of fungi samples housed in glass cabinets literally filled to the brim with anti-moth balls and large Chapmanesque models of deforested landscapes. After meandering around these for a while we came across the Timber Engineering Department, which sounded like it might be helpful for us. Here we found a series of 1:1 timber trusses on display outside and a series of large scale models of roof structures and bridges etc inside. They had a beautiful workshop, with a huge ventilated window which we liked the look of, and we thought this might be used for researching innovative ways of using wood… but unfortunately it turned out that it was used only for maintaining and repairing existing structures on the FRI site. We’re hoping that this week’s trip – to the Uttarakhand Bamboo Fiber Development Board might be more useful! There are serious risks from termites and damp in this area, so we’re going to have to look carefully into how we could use timber and bamboo in a sustainable and affordable way.
Building a structure on the site, on the other hand, was a great exercise to negotiate the purchase and delivery of materials, understand the implications of working in the school while the children are studying here, get together a set of tools, and practice ways of joining, raising and bracing a structure. It was also, of course, a chance to test out a design idea quickly and physically, which is part of the reason we chose to use bamboo, which is cheap, light and rigid. Although we had to be careful to explain that this wasn’t anywhere near a final design! It was interesting how literally people took it to be, worrying that the ceilings were too low, or the ground-plan not deep enough. While this was a little frustrating at first, it proved how useful mock-ups will be later in the process when we have a more complete design that we would like to test with the users.