Sprucing up the Forest


By Karen Turnbull

Karen Turnbull, ADP Sustainability Leader, discusses her experience volunteering at Hooke Park.

John Newman, Sarah Parker and I ventured out again for another volunteering weekend at Hooke Park, reminding us of the inspirational impact of this special place hidden away in West Dorset. Hooke Park is home to the AA (Architectural Association) and is largely used for their residential ‘Design and Make’ courses, where students have the enviable opportunity to live in the forest, designing structures and buildings from the surrounding timber.

Our weekend was spent as part of a group of volunteers ‘pruning’ small pockets of the 350 acre site, of mixed species woodland, including Sweet Chestnut, Douglas Fir and Norway Spruce.


It sounds daunting, but after a short period of time, the pruning became an almost meditative process; steady repetitive physical work requiring focus, in a remote, quiet setting, surrounded by trees and birdsong. The food and hospitality also helped – hot lunches were interspersed with copious amounts of delicious home-made cakes, justified by the excuse that we were burning the calories!

Our impact was greater than we anticipated. We had a locust effect, with a steady but modest clearing, and opening up of each area, as we worked our way through.

Using very efficient Japanese pruning saws, we were tasked with removing side branches and knots, which encourages the trees to grow tall and straight, improving the overall timber quality.


This is a long-term strategy where the results won’t come into fruition for another 20 – 60 years, depending on the species and age of tree being harvested. After a previous history of limited management, Hooke Park is dedicated to improving the quality, and therefore the value of the timber it grows. This will ensure the long term viability of the forest.

The irony with the ambition is with the approach of how Hooke currently uses the timber in the buildings designed on site. The overarching theme is how imperfect and poor quality timber, that is readily available on site, has shaped and driven the students to design, develop and experiment with innovative forms, structures and technologies that utilise timber efficiently.

Workshop © Valerie Bennet

The site tells a story of innovative timber techniques through the buildings designed and made by the students. The range of buildings has evolved from the use of green wood for the tensile structure in the Prototype House and bent lattice grid evident in Westminster Lodge, all the way through to more recent additions, including the awe inspiring Wood Chip Barn.

Wood Chip Barn © Valerie Bennet

The structure for Wood Chip Barn uses forked beech in a lattice type arrangement as the central structure, creating a spine that runs from four concrete pads, looking like a prehistoric creature, taking a stroll into the forest. Beech trees were selected and scanned using 3D scanning techniques to develop the structure, with robotic milling used to form the connections. The structure maximises efficiency, using the inherent form of the fork to full value.

Wood Chip Barn Fork Beech Lattice Roof Structure © Valerie Bennet

Well managed woodland not only rewards in terms of financial return but it also supports biodiversity, thinning the trees to allow more daylight in, encouraging growth of the understorey to support insect-life. As branches are removed they are left on the ground, eventually rotting down and improving soil structure. Branches are allowed to fall over the numerous tiny streams that interweave the woodland, forming small dams adding to the rich mix of habitat types.

The weekend provided plenty of debate and conversation from a range of different perspectives, and backgrounds, including students, local enthusiasts, architects and gardeners. We came away a little worn out and achy but inspired to take lessons learnt from the weekend into our own projects and looking forward to the next opportunity to get involved at Hooke Park!



Karen Turnbull

Karen Turnbull

Karen joined ADP in 1996 and is the practice's Sustainability Leader.
She leads the in-house sustainability team, providing BREEAM and bespoke sustainability services.