The Bartlett School of Architecture


FoundersKeepers: Building a Circular Culture at The Bartlett School of Architecture

24 November 2023

A new, collaborative student initiative aims to reduce waste by sharing and reusing materials across different programmes at The Bartlett’s Bloomsbury site.

The first FoundersKeepers shop, part of The Bartlett Summer Show 2023

The FoundersKeepers shop, which evolved from a single undergraduate group project to a permanent resource at the school’s 22 Gordon Street site, offers a systemised circular material hub, where students from different programmes can claim unwanted or waste materials to use in their own work. The shop is a collaboration with The Bartlett School of Architecture Society and The Bartlett Climate Action Network.

The genesis of the hub was a project by three Architecture & Interdisciplinary Studies BSc (AIS) students: Harang Seo, Marius Sidaravicius and Kingsley Luo. The project, 'Un-contextualize’, sought to repurpose waste generated during The Bartlett’s Autumn and Summer exhibitions. Presenting materials salvaged from a skip in new contexts generated interest from other students, who saw their potential value as resources for making. This sparked a paradigm shift, prompting the AIS students to question the relationship of context and value.

A collaboration with The Bartlett’s Facilities team followed. The team helped the AIS students to intercept discarded materials from one of the floors’ studio clearances. The salvaged materials were showcased in an experimental shop called 'Founders Keepers' during The Bartlett 2023 Summer Show, alongside the AIS display wall which was also made from repurposed materials. Following the show, the students continued to gather waste materials and store them, selecting those suitable for the new shop, which by then operated as a pop-up venture on the sixth floor of 22 Gordon Street. The students integrated the circular ethos into the very fabric of the shop, building its display furniture from the same waste materials they had gathered. Students used a sign-in sheet to record their usage of the shop, enabling the organisers to track how waste materials were being reintegrated into new work and processes.

In the pop-up shop’s opening week, thirty students across the school’s permanent and summer programmes found and claimed reusable materials for their work. By the end of the summer, they had logged 500 shop interactions just based on sign-ins, though the FoundersKeepers team observed greater numbers than those officially recorded. The advent of the Autumn Show 2023 saw student engagement grow further, indicating an ongoing need for this valuable new resource. By the time of the show launch, more than half of FoundersKeepers’ raw material stock had been used in its production.

After a proposal was submitted to School Director Amy Kulper and the school’s senior leadership team, FoundersKeepers secured approval to continue on a permanent basis. The shop is now sited on the first floor mezzanine of the Bloomsbury campus – a location that places it in the regular footfall of many of the school’s students and staff, and represents a communal and collaborative space for the school community to engage with. Now in their third year of study, Marius and Harang, along with Hannah Simon (Architecture BSc (ARB/RIBA Part 1), Year 3) manage the running of the shop and are currently seeking ChangeMakers funding to support its longterm future.

For the student founders and the community of their peers that use the shop, it offers a way for everyone to make an active choice about their own sustainability, and take up a proactive role in forming healthier material flows. Students from Architecture MSci (ARB Part 1 & 2), Engineering and Architectural Design MEng, Architecture BSc (ARB/RIBA Part 1) and Architecture & Interdisciplinary Studies BSc have found particular value in the shop, with one student expressing that it helped with ‘beginning of the year blues’. 

Speaking about the shop and its impact, the FoundersKeepers team commented,

One might say FoundersKeepers is students taking responsibility for our own material facilitation culture. It is crucial to acknowledge individual responsibility we have as designers. Architects should especially care for their materials as much as they do for any other aspect of the profession, as it is the very foundation for the cities we live and breathe in."

As students graduate toward professional careers as architects and designers, the FoundersKeepers team hope that the shop will inspire longterm, systemic change and more responsive, thoughtful and sustainable ways of working in the world.

Bartlett students can access the FoundersKeepers shop at 22 Gordon Street, on the first floor mezzanine on weekdays.

More information

Images: All photos by Marius Sidaravicius