Handmade: Britain's Best Woodworker - Interview with Alex de Rijke

Category: Press Pack Article

Award-winning architect Alex de Rijke is a timber architecture advocate, educationalist and architectural photographer. He is a Founding Director of dRMM Architects and is responsible for leading the design, construction and delivery of the practice’s timber projects. These include diverse projects including Kingsdale School, Tower of LoveSliding House, Endless Stair, Maggie’s Oldham and the 2017 Stirling Prize winning Hastings Pier

Why did you agree to become a judge on this series?
I saw it as a populist route to promote wood. I’m interested in the advocacy of wood and as an architect, I’ve done a lot to promote wood in the construction industry. I thought to get involved with a fun programme would be a good opportunity to spread the message about wood.

How did you find filming?
TV is an unreal world. I’m a maker, I make buildings, furniture, real three-dimensional things from wood and very that is different to making to television. I’ve found it fascinating.

What sort of judge are you?
I just say what’s on my mind, I’m not playing a role, I’m just being myself.

And how do you work with Helen, the other judge on the series?
Helen and I are well balanced, we have different views, but we arrive at the same conclusions. Helen comes from a technical background and is all about the joints and the joinery whereas I’m more critical of the conceptual basis of the work and the reasons for it.

What was it like to work with Mel Giedroyc?
Mel is amazing. She put everyone at east with her humour and got the best out of everyone, it was such a privilege to work with her.

Were you impressed with the standard of the contestants on the show?
The contestants were so committed and hardworking, it was very impressive. I was impressed with the standard of making, the standard of design is much more varied which is understandable as they’re mostly hobbyists and not from design backgrounds.

Are there any standout woodworkers the viewers should keep an eye out for?
There are characters in the mix with extreme skills but the tasks are so different, they all get a chance to shine. It’s quite interesting how wide open the competition is.

Why do you think now is the right time for a show like this?
The climate change crisis is so fundamental to our future, we’ve got to the stage as humankind where we’re producing so much pollution, so much waste and so much carbon that it’s not only a case of the natural world being in crisis, we’re also destroying ourselves yet we largely choose to ignore it. I’m in the business of making buildings and I’m incredibly keen that questions of waste, questions of manufacture, questions of carbon production are addressed, not only by the construction industry, but by everybody. Unless everybody does something about it there won’t be enough change. Even though this programme is entertainment, it’s also informative. There is a message that wood is the only material available to us that is self-generating and absorbs carbon rather than producing it.

Do you think woodwork has become more popular as people have become more environmentally conscious?
There is more desire to be less consumer, I think. With Covid and people spending more time at home, they have been getting creative and making things and doing more DIY. It’s incredibly satisfying to make something yourself and use it. And the big thing to stress with wood is that it does not contain toxins so it’s all part of a new awareness of health that is a positive aspect of the pandemic.

Do you think the show will inspire more people to give woodwork a go for themselves? What tips would you give to any beginners?
I hope it will give people confidence to make things with wood instead of buying. I would encourage people to give it a go but to keep it simple and keep it safe.

What do you want viewers to take away from the series?
Firstly, you can build anything out of wood and don’t need to default to materials like steel and concrete. And secondly, wood is better than other materials because of this miraculous ability to store rather than produce carbon.