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Architecture (MA)

Ash Pales

The physical manifestation of architecture is a visual representation of a vast network. 

This network includes experts and other collaborators from various fields; building materials and knowledge of how to use them sustainably, while reducing waste; and natural contexts, including the site from which materials are sourced. 

The Roots of Craft operates under the pretense that designing well requires knowledge of this complex network, which can only be gained by working with materials and being on site every day. 

Therefore, the project seeks to better understand this network — through the specific material of timber. 

Part of this journey includes an immersion in the surrounding nature, as the crafting of timber objects and spaces requires intimate knowledge of the forest and the factors affecting it — including tree diseases, lack of maintenance, and changes to the global timber market. 

The Roots of Craft culminates with a vision for a future architectural practice which aims to bolster our relationship with local woodlands, emphasises a full cycle of forestry resources, and explores the coexistence between work, life, and leisure. 

Image of me

For me, the physical work required to bring new things into the world is the most rewarding part of what it means to be a designer and architect. I believe that craft and making fulfil the spiritual needs not only of the maker, but also the users of objects and spaces. 

I am particularly drawn to wood as a material, and I am routinely humbled by the biology of trees. I feel that designers have a role in protecting the natural spaces in which our trees flourish, and that we also have the capacity to do so. 

These ideas serve as the foundation of my practice.

Before joining the RCA, I completed my undergraduate degree at Yale University. After my undergraduate studies, I fabricated furniture and architectural elements while working at MFGR Designs in Bozeman, Montana, USA. Following this, I went on to work for Florian Busch Architects in Tokyo, Japan. 

I am working towards a world where we have reestablished the lost connection between the human spirit and designed objects and spaces.


These images capture scenes from the home and workshop of an old farmhouse in Hida, Japan. 

Here, two young women live amongst objects which have been crafted by their own hands, including wooden chopsticks and spoons, handmade chopping boards, and the wooden table and chairs where they gather for meals at the beginning and end of each day. At the back of the house, a traditional tatami room has been converted into a wood workshop. Outside, household tools and woodworking tools lay side by side.

These women have reconstructed this farmhouse into a type of architecture which facilitates a symbiotic relationship between work, life, and leisure, and is deeply embedded into the surrounding nature.

This year, as I started thinking about my architectural education, I realised that my idea of what architecture is is bigger than just the design of a building – it includes what we build with, how we build, who we interact with, and in what kind of environment we practise.

So, I set out on a journey to discover these things with the material that I'm most passionate about: timber.

UK site map
Japan site map

In two countries, I searched for the roots of craft – through ritual, environment, and education. 

In the UK, my research was focused in the southeast of England – the most heavily forested region of the UK and the source of much of the country’s timber variety and resources.

The southeast of England also presents opportunities for researching tree diseases. Ten years ago, ash dieback (formally known as chalara fraxinea) was discovered in the UK. This tree disease is a fungus which eats away at the cellulose wall of the wood in ash trees, causing the structure to weaken and eventually rot away.

In Japan, I was based in the Hida region of the Gifu prefecture, with supplemental research occurring within neighbouring prefectures. 

The Hida region is a densely forested area, and holds a similar position in Japan as the southeast region holds in England, with over 90% of the surrounding area made up of woodlands. Additionally, there is a rich history of over 1,300 years of woodworking in this area. 

Japan’s forests are facing a similar issue with a tree disease known as oak wilt. This disease is caused by a beetle which bores through the sides of oak trees, spreading a fungus which blocks the movement of water throughout the tree, causing it to wither. 

Throughout my journey in both countries, I sought to answer the following questions: 

How can architecture help to protect the heritage of local forests through sustainable woodland management? 

And, how would an architectural practice founded on the roots of craft function in the contemporary world? 

Following these experiences, the project imagines a practice which will grow from these roots in the UK, but could exist anywhere in the world. 

The roots of these tree diseases come from different issues. In the UK, ash dieback came about as a result of foreign plant imports – in recent years, ash saplings from abroad have become cheaper than UK-grown trees, which has introduced foreign spores to our local forests. 

In Japan, oak wilt has been a natural part of the forest for a long period of time, but has flourished since the 1950s. After World War II, the cost of labour and the transition to oil and gas meant that people stopped maintaining forests, allowing trees to grow wide which provided room for the oak wilt beetle to invade and proliferate. 

In both countries, the default ending for these diseased trees is to be chipped and burned. This practice isn’t helping to eradicate or manage the diseases. Pre-emptive tree felling only encourages the irresponsible maintenance of local forests, which in turn exacerbates the importing of foreign wood. 

The importing of foreign wood is becoming more difficult – in the past few years, Canadian cedar, a common domestic softwood, has drastically increased in price. Additionally, since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, all timber imports from Russia and its allies have been banned, with this wood now being considered conflict timber.

The neglecting of our local forests and the reliance on foreign plant and timber imports is allowing tree diseases to flourish and diminishing our local woodlands. The world has an urgent need for design practices which encourage a full cycle of forestry, sustainably using local hardwoods and making use of every part of the tree. 

In Hida, Japan, I found a design practice working in this way – a small-scale furniture and product design company called Kito Kurashi. 

At this company, nothing is wasted. The forest, the tree, and human life are a cycle of energy and resources. All of the trees that they use have fallen naturally or are ethically felled from nearby forests. Then, those trees either become wood chips for growing mushrooms, raw materials for paper, or timber for furniture and products. In the workshop, at the end of the day, sawdust is collected to become bedding for cows, and smaller offcuts become firewood to cook meals in the evening. 

Mirror 1
Mirror 2
Mirror 3
Mirror 4
Mirror 5
Mirror 6

During my time at Kito Kurashi, they gave me a brief to design something commercially-friendly using waste wood. So, using planks of wood from a Japanese Tsugaru apple tree which died from a fungus, I designed and fabricated a collection of mirrors which highlighted the knots, rot, and wormholes caused by the fungus.

At Kito Kurashi, there is one person who determines where each part of every tree should go – Shisho. He has an intimate knowledge of the forest that can only be gained through a lifetime’s experience of working and living closely with trees. Living in Hida for one month expanded my education in many ways, but the most important part was being there physically, on site, working with timber, and asking questions to people like Shisho everyday.

Living and working in Hida for one month expanded my education in many ways, but the most important part was being there physically, on site, interacting with people, and working manually with the material every day. 

Before I had ever worked in a workshop, I found myself in a position in which many young designers seem to be in today: I didn’t understand the natural context from which materials come from, how things are made, what parts are wasted and how to reduce that waste. 

To become the person, like Shisho, who knows the forest so well that he can identify each tree just by looking at it and immediately determine its best uses, one must devote years of their life to the physical effort of working and living with the material.

So, I began my journey working with timber by trying to better understand what I defined as architecture – what we build with, how we build, who we interact with, and in what kind of environment we practise. I put these ideas into practice by finding two local trees to work with, both of which had fallen to disease: a plum tree in London and a walnut tree at Grymsdyke Farm.

In both cases, the wood that I was working with was green wood – that is, freshly cut wood with a high moisture content. Using the tools of a lathe, an angle grinder, and a chainsaw, I conducted a series of material studies which allowed me to better understand working with green wood and parts of the tree that you usually cannot access when purchasing directly from a timber merchant. 

These material studies serve as the beginning of my lifelong journey with wood and will continue after RCA with the launching of my own practice dedicated to working with salvaged timber and regenerating our local forests. 


In a series of tools, material studies, and artefacts from the UK and Japan, I imagine the vision for my future architectural practice in the southeast of England. These objects are laid out on a display piece which functions as a physical representation of how this practice will be organised into a home and workshop. 

Within this vision, items are organised into seven categories: tools, references, material studies, whole hardwood, planed timber, offcuts of various sizes, and items to be used in my kitchen and living space. Everything here is part of my story this year and speaks to the goals for my future architectural practice.

These items begin to answer some of the questions that my future practice will answer: Where is the area that I’m working? What is the scale of the forest? Who are my clients? What does my workshop look like? What does my kitchen look like? How do I interpret reinforcing a full life cycle of the forest? What is the architecture of a space in which one can both live and work? 


variety of tools, material studies, and wood artefacts
main image

The project culminates with the design and fabrication of Display. The word ‘display’ has multiple meanings as it relates to my final piece – ‘display’ is referring to the physical displaying of the objects from within the catalogue, and the broader reference that they have to my future practice. ‘Display’ also refers to the displaying of the skills and techniques that I learned in Japan, in particular when it comes to devising innovative joinery from the given conditions of available timber.

Wood 1
Wood 2
Wood 3
Wood 4

Lastly, ‘display’ is referring to the ethos behind my project and future practice – bringing a new life to unwanted or salvaged timber. 

The entire piece is constructed from salvaged timber from Grymsdyke Farm, including the old attic floorboards and fence posts. 


Display is designed such that it can be completely disassembled and reassembled with no nails or glue – only joints. The joints came about organically as a result of features of the wood; for example, the existing holes in the fence posts suggested the use of dowels for peg joints. 


All of the items from the catalogue are arranged on and around Display, which connects everything together to represent my future architectural practice – one which aims to help to protect the heritage of our forests by sourcing locally, making use of timber which is traditionally deemed as waste, encouraging a full cycle of forestry resources, and forging deeper relationships with the community and environment in which I am working. 



variety of salvaged timber, including old attic floorboards and fence posts