Project Wales ~ Craft and Architecture

In this blog, I am going to show how architects can look to Welsh craft and folk art as a source of inspiration on our search for a new Welsh design identity. #ProjectWALES

There is a long history of craft in Wales. Weaving, knitting and quilt making all continue to give Wales a strong sense of identity and heritage, that everyone is familiar with. Welsh blankets using traditional patterns are still manufactured in Wales very successfully. This area is very close to my heart because I am a professional textile designer specialising in print, so out of all of my blogs to date, this one about showing pattern on the exterior of buildings is my favourite.

Usually when architects talk about craft, it will be about bespoke features integral to the building but I believe we can make a building look more Welsh through decoration. We all agree it is important to have craft within the architecture, I also believe it can be used externally, a visual statement that recognises our textile heritage. A statement that everyone can enjoy and take inspiration from.

While growing up in south Wales there was a famous landmark near Cardiff station. A water tower had a large daffodil mural painted onto it. It was a landmark, one that many people fondly remember. I am not suggesting we paint emblematic murals everywhere, though that cross pollinated with graffiti has merit. What I am suggesting is that we use folk pattern and craft pattern in contemporary architecture to create a new language that can be vernacular to Wales.

Here, I have chosen a series of images to illustrate how craft and folk patterns can be used in architecture.

It is so important to be specific about the kind of pattern that might emulate Welsh soul. This wonderful vinyl pattern has the feeling of quilting or embroidery and certainly feels hand crafted. It looks fantastic especially on the outside of the building which is a completely unexpected location for a ‘homely’ pattern. Right now, it looks exciting and fresh and with a new design could be very Welsh.
De Meo & De Bona for Wall & Deco.

This 5-colour, painted mural takes inspiration from textile mills and weave patterns. It’s well-chosen, clever colours are sympathetic to the local stone, of which the house it built from. The stars and diamonds patchwork are sized correctly to fit within the canvas of the wall, further compounding the notion of craft. It is so important, even vital, to start injecting architecture in Wales with a sense of our DNA. Wrapping, painting, printing and decorating our buildings with patterns and textures could be a way forward.
Garnethill Mural, Glasgow from 1977 has decayed beautifully.

The simple, ‘folk-art’ colour-blocking, feels honest and correct against the pinewood grain. Using the patterns across all surfaces including the roof is really important, it turns the building into a jewellery box in the woods. It feels special, bespoke and important, even though it is honest and simple.
Dartford Ecology Building by Studio Weave. The timber-clad structure is an outdoor classroom, dyeing workshop, art studio, bird-watching hide, tree house and park shelter all rolled into one.

Urban Interiorites is surely a one-of-a-kind restaurant, located in the Harajuku area of Tokyo, this restaurant, sake bar and lounge looks like a textiles project using what look like pin cushions, felt pillows and plastic buttons. Indeed it is a very loud design, but we must admit it is incredibly brave.
This restaurant design was a student project at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, with Professor Ali Rahim, Tiffany Dahlen, and Virginia Melnyk. 

Hidden houses in the woods are given an entirely new purpose when wrapped in simple textile patterns. They are welcoming sanctuaries, rather than remote and disconnected edifices.
Wall & Decò.

Foreign Office Architects have completed the new tile-covered campus for Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, located on the Greenwich Peninsula in London. The façade is composed of 28,000 anodised aluminium tiles in three different shapes and colours. The pattern and its contruction is demonstrably craft related. It reminded me of macrame and knotwork.

Arabel Rosillo de Blas is a visual artist. Here she has created lace window panels from nylon rope.
Commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts. May 2012- August 2012, 1St Paul’s square. Bedford. UK

Lace fence on the facades of apartment buildings, designed by SeARCH architects. the facades consist of 150 panels that are seamlessly put together to cover a total area of 3000m2. they are located in the hague, and made from betafence white PVC coated wire.

This doily mural against red brick uses symmetry to feel integral to the older building.
Wall by NeSpoon PL.

I found this building on my travels in Copenhagen. The entire facade, to what is a jewellery company, is covered in these bronze (?) perforated and folded panels. The pattern is very delicate, I wish I was able to go inside because the light coming through must be beautiful.
The panels are motorized, and every morning alternate panels open. At night, all the blinds are closed and the building is protected by the continuity of the sheet.
Trollbeads Jewellery, Toldbodgade 13. Copenhagen.


Previously I have looked at patterns applied on top of a structure, the following images show how pattern can be introduced integrally, in the brick work. I am really excited by the following images, some of which I have taken myself. It is possible to channel various textures, knit and weave structures with just the common brick. This is where craft in architecture for Wales makes perfect sense.

This huge, windowless, brick tower is made special by arranging the bricks in a finely 3D filigree, similar to the knit pattern of fairisle. Some bricks protrude whiles others are in relief. Across such a large edifice it is difficult to decipher the effect, yet it has the same feeling to a very fine couture fabric.
NRW State Archive, by ORTNER & ORTNER BAUKUNST. Germany.

This very simple, 2-colour brick pattern looks so much like a waffle weave structure, the kind one sees in blankets. The result is rich, warm and memorable. An inexpensive way to bring craft and pattern into Welsh architecture.

This diamond brick pattern turns what would have been a very boring building into one that is in its own category..
Light blue glazed bricks shine in the daylight, contrasting happily with the red brick, and the addition of white bricks further lightens the façade. On the corners of the new buildings, the subtle diamond pattern folds around like cloth.
St. Mary of Eton, Hackney. Matthew Lloyd Architects.

Another simple brick arrangement completely transforms the surface of this building, using classic textile patterns similar to Argyl. It would be wonderful to start seeing craft patterns used in Welsh architecture today.

Further compounding the beauty of the brick; A patchwork of various textile patterns reminds me of the 2nd image in the blog, from Glasgow. Tweed textures and herringbone structures bring this building to life with decoration.

Finally, this fantastic building shows a myriad ways to use brick to make woven-like textures.
Concrete facade panels clad with brickwork allude to the original brick assembly technique used in the neighbourhood, whilst breaking with the monotonous, repetitive appearance of traditional prefab facades. The result is a varied brickwork pattern that resembles the colourful image composition of hanging woven blankets.
Mecanoo Architects, Amsterdam Noordstrook Block A.