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Time Limited Architecture

Part 2 Project 2010
Alexander Whitcroft
Cardiff University Cardiff UK

Following a dissertation on ‘closed loop’, the thesis investigates how architecture might sustainably respond to the reality that no human products, including buildings, last forever – focusing on material and lifecycle considerations and appropriate construction technologies.


The project is situated in the Fens – a region of extremely fertile, low lying land covering swathes of, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Historically salt marsh, now mechanically drained farmland, the Fens remain at high risk from flooding, despite being defended from the sea by networks of raised causeways and pumping stations. Within the next 100 years rising sea levels, soil erosion and increased adverse weather could render swathes of the Fens untenable, whilst flooding is likely to frequently inundate the area.


The scheme is a live-work-teach co-op and seed breeding facility, with a proposed lifespan of 25 years. Acting as a counterpoint to the socially and ecologically harmful pro-globalisation, pro-standardisation trend in contemporary agriculture, it will research and teach low ecological impact farming techniques and breed, process and sell regionally tailored crop strains.


The design captures the atmosphere of the Fens: changing and shifting with the seasons and the weather, yet having a stillness and timelessness.

The proposal consists of five blocks 'moored' along the causeway, with sheltered outdoor spaces between them.

The construction system consists of:

COB: Willow gabion and cob earthworks, sourced from site, raise the five blocks above flood water and shelter them from wind. Free from most load-bearing roles, the cob partitions and articulates the interior and is left to biodegrade at the end of the building's life.

BOXES: Suspended, hemp and timber boxes, sheltered against the cob, provide secluded spaces within larger glazed envelopes. Installed as prefab panels they are reclaimed at the end of the building's life.

SHROUD: An overarching polycarbonate structure, supported on a timber frame, shelters the each of the blocks from rain during construction and use, controls light, opens in good weather, distributes building services and is recovered for reuse or recycling at the end of the building's life.

Alexander Whitcroft

Building Simply
The M Arch 2 Design Module in the Welsh School of Architecture is organised around thematic studios. Following an introductory design project, graduates elect to work in one of a number of different studios in order to focus on a particular aspect of architectural design. The studios reflect contemporary issues in architecture that the school
Alex Whitcroft’s thesis was centred on the Building Simply Studio. This studio provides an opportunity to design in the context of ‘Building Simply’. In these economically and environmentally challenging times Architects should be able to add value to construction projects. This may be from an economic, ethical, formal, material or resource position or a combination of these. Dictionary definitions of ‘simple’ include; easy to understand or do, plain or unpretentious, not combined or complex, pure, unmixed, untainted, innocent, complete, sincere or frank’. Whilst these definitions are helpful they are not quite explicit enough.
Alex chose to investigate what he called ‘time limited’ architecture in this studio and proceeded to methodically map, define and create an architecture that was responsive to time in the light of climate change.
The result was an appropriately innovative and well judged essay in materials, technique and ultimately place-making.

Wayne Forster
Welsh School of Architecture

Dr Wayne Forster
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