Author: Emily Johnson -
Between the 12th and 18th of June, structures began to sprout out of the ground at Bushey Norwood.
Within the week, four pavilions were designed and constructed on the National Trust site by a group of Architecture and Civil Engineering students, to be used in the Forest of Imagination festival which took place at the end of June. The festival takes place every year in Bath, but this year the challenge was to bring it to the top of Bathwick Hill, submerged in nature and separated from the town’s deep historical context.
With Harry Hewlett from FCB Studios, our group consisting of three 5th Year and three 1st Year Architecture students, as well as a 1st Year Civil Engineer student, were able to construct The Run. The project takes its name from the buttercup species of the field; the flowers evolved into the narrative for the project, exploring and exaggerating this datum to a human scale and submerging us in the overgrowth.
Imagining the Forest
The brief of our pavilion was flexible, provided it attracted and directed people to the top of the field where more events were being held. The process began with a site visit, where we were thrown into the middle of the field. Initially, the lack of context was daunting, and we found ourselves searching for a significant site connection to bring the project to life.
It wasn’t until we revisited the site when we saw the pavilion as more than a wayfinding tool, it was a chance to plant our own forest within the opening. This allowed the provided materiality to work in its raw form, felled timber from the forest on the site. We chose the trees with character - the wonkier the better - and used these as the vertical elements of the structure. The additional frames took more thought, focusing initially on framing views in the surroundings, but later evolving through sketches and modelling to provide a bench and deck for someone to inhabit. The pavilion wasn’t just a way finding tool, it was a rest point.
Building the Forest
Construction began by Wednesday, and the heat grew as the week went on. The horizontal frames were our first task, constructing them from sawn timber sourced off-site. By using a different wood to the columns for this element, their processing, or lack of, could be distinguished through hue. Once moved into place, the felled trees could be ‘replanted’, our structure forming around these natural elements. This was when colour was introduced to the structure, the initial idea being to mimic the datum created by the buttercups down at floor level. Though this was a bold move (one which I was initially unconvinced), it has a playful artificial quality you don’t expect on such an untouched site.
Once all the trees were steaked in place and the frames went up, not only did it provide us with a great resting place for a much-needed ice cream break, but an ideal opportunity to experience the pavilion. Laying down amongst the trees and looking up at the yellow against the blue sky imitates a bug’s view out of the grass, our surroundings being the nest that rose from the earth using our hands.
Reflecting on the Forest
This opportunity has been a chance of freedom in an education based on countless theoretical projects. Practicing at 1:1 gives an appreciation of scale and quantity of materials required to build something, as well as the manpower involved. Though the size of the pavilion is quantifiable, the experience has been incalculable. I would recommend doing this project to anyone, it’s a great addition to a portfolio, and gets us students away from the laptops we are constantly looking at in hope of inspiration, and out into the real world.
(That said, I resorted back to my laptop the week after. I made it a goal to learn Adobe Premiere during the summer, and I documented the process through film. The result can be seen above!)
Group members: Emily Johnson, Alice Mellor, Molly McGrath, Alice Kim, Jessica Lai, John Chan, Yimika Koya