The King's Foundation The King's Foundation
Summer School

Journal 14 September 2018

Traditional architecture, design and building skills at our Summer School

We speak to Australian student Alexander Dowthwaite about the valuable skills he has developed at The Prince’s Foundation Summer School

For three weeks over July students attended The Prince’s Foundation Summer School, a course where participants developed their knowledge of traditional architecture, design, construction and repair techniques and how these can be applied today’s building practices. The first week was spent at The Prince’s Foundation headquarters in Shoreditch, London; while the final two weeks took place at the Dumfries House Estate in Ayrshire, Scotland. Participant Alexander Dowthwaite, shares how the programme has benefited him and the heritage craft skills he will take back to his architectural practice in Australia.

What are your architecture and design backgrounds?

I'm currently completing my architecture studies in Melbourne, Australia, and have worked with firms like M. J. Suttie Architects, as well as organisations such as INTBAU Australia to promote Australia's architectural heritage, and make a small contribution to its conservation and growth.

When and how did you first become interested in heritage building crafts, architecture and design?

Image of a man sketching outside
Alexander Dowthwaite sketching on site

As the grandson of both a German émigré architect on my mother's side (Frederick Romberg) and an Irish traditional boat builder on my father's (Joseph Dowthwaite), I've grown up with a strong understanding of design philosophy, practical skills and the value of tradition to both. Traditional architecture therefore became a natural interest, alongside a passion for both craftsmanship and good design, and their application in the modern world.

When and how did you find out about The Prince's Foundation?

I first found out about The Prince's Foundation through the works of Leon Krier and the Poundbury development. The fact that traditional architecture and town planning could be practised in a modern context was a revelation to me, and HRH The Prince of Wales' patronage of craftsmanship and traditional skills inspired me to continue my studies as an architect.

When and how did you discover the Summer School?

I discovered the Summer School when I was searching for some form of tutelage in traditional architecture, which is sadly currently unavailable to students in Australia. My friend, another Australian, participated in the course and strongly recommended it to me.

Why does this course appeal to you?

The combination of traditional skills with applied architectural design gives students the widest possible appreciation of traditional trades, and their application to the modern world. By offering both a practical and a theoretical understanding of traditional building elements, The Prince's Foundation Summer School gives students a holistic understanding which is rarely found in architecture courses today. It is this broad, encompassing understanding that makes the Summer School so appealing.

Closeup image of tools
Tools of the trade

What are your first impressions of Dumfries House?

Dumfries House is a brilliant, early Adam brothers country house, and HRH The Prince of Wales' intervention and subsequent enrichment of the estate is a true service to the nation.

What are the skills you hope to learn at the Summer School?

At the summer school I hope to develop my architectural practice, improve my understanding of traditional building and learn more about the traditional trades that are the foundation of good architecture and design. I'm especially looking forward to turning my hand to stone masonry and thatching, and developing my timber working skills.

How do you plan to use these skills when you finish and return home?

As a man who is constantly building things, I'll certainly be continuing my timber-working, but will also continue to practice stone masonry. Above all, I'll carry an appreciation of these trades through to my architectural practice.

What have been your course highlights so far?

My highlight so far has been learning new trades alongside expert craftsmen, as well as having the opportunity to develop some of the skills which have sadly been lost in most architecture courses, such as life drawing and hand-craftsmanship.

What types of projects back home would benefit from the skills taught at the Summer School?

Australia is a country with a rich architectural tradition, but without many traditional architects. It is therefore necessary to reintroduce some understanding of humane proportions, the human form, craftsmanship and tradition to the Australian building culture. As tradition is key to a humane understanding of the world, any architect that attends The Prince's Foundation Summer School will acquire skills that they will use on any live project they work on, and I look forward to applying the skills I have been taught throughout my career.

Find out more about The Prince's Foundation Summer School here.

Words: Rebecca Parker

Photography: Lisa Boyd & Richard Ivey