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Posts Tagged ‘Common Places’

Case Study – The Rickyard Public Seating

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Rickyard Cover shots

Our ‘Case Studies’ are an opportunity to take a more in depth look at projects from a design perspective…

In 2011 I embarked on a collaborative project called ‘Common Places’ with Adam Zombory-Moldovan of ZMMA Architects, to research ideas for public art in Shaftesbury, Dorset. That ended in a rather ignominious heated public debate with an ex Lord Mayor of London, a well-known television archaeologist and an array of characters who played tennis together closing ranks to ‘save’ the town from modern art. Although in the end the ‘Common Places’ project research did not lead to public artworks in Shaftesbury Town centre, the ideas did take physical form not so far away.

We had been approached by Persimmon Homes through the project sponsors, North Dorset District Council and the Dorset Design & Heritage Forum, to look simultaneously at a site on the new East Shaftesbury housing development. This major expansion of the town had been contentious as they often are in rural locations. One of the many conditions of planning permission had been to integrate public art in various open spaces within the development to give the scheme more local character and individuality.

Initially we were asked to look at The Rickyard, a small open green space in the middle of a cul-de-sack of new 3 to 4 bed houses with a footpath running through the middle from corner to corner. This was part of an existing public footpath that connected the town to a network of roads and trackways (some very old) linking to other settlements and features in the landscape. It was partly this enforced juxtaposition of the new houses and the ancient landscape we were interested in exploring, but also use of local materials and the links to Dorset myths, sacred places and sight lines. We were really playing with the idea of sense of place and time.

The Rickyard had been ‘landscaped’ in the way that new developments are planted – rather contrived; but all these developments have to start from something – and it doesnt take long for these new spaces to become imbedded as ‘place’ to the people who live there. So our job was to add some intrigue, meaning, focus and of course, somewhere to sit.

When the project included the wider remit of potential sites in Shaftesbury town centre the plan had been to make links using public art between these old and new communities, highlighting the old trackways into the market town with objects, markers and words. Now as a stand alone site these resonances are more obscure, but nevertheless The Rickyard is still hopefully a place to pause and contemplate old and new, time and place.

In the world where cars transport you from your new home to work, or the supermarket, or a day out with the kids in comfort, arriving at a place is all too easy. The Rickyard is probably best experienced as a surprise encounter on a journey by foot, from the Saxon origins of the market town’s streets, through estates of houses from the post-war building boom, though the 70s low lying bungalows, the 80s red brick, the 90’s brown window frames, then finally into the latest offering from Persimmon Homes: The new ‘mini town’ with a ‘village’ feel and its patches of open public space (at least it has them), and this one has something rather different, even ‘unusual’ in it.

Perhaps what is here has resonances with an even more ancient landscape that is all around but is not always obvious; the hill forts, burial mounds, ditches and features that are prevalent in this part of the world.

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‘The Rickyard’ installation seen from the corners of the cul-de-sac where the public rights of way emerge into the space. The scorched oak uprights serve to mark the way across the space. Our proposals also incorporated a hard pathway through the seating but this element is yet to be completed by Persimmon Homes.

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These public space projects take time to come to fruition. For various reasons 4 years past from the initial ideas to final installation. The completed benches remained at my workshops for 18 months before finally being transported to site in late 2015. Apart from the lack of resolution on the surface of the pathway through the seating and uprights (it’s not mean’t to be grass) The Rickyard is very much as Adam & I envisaged it in the early concepts.

This kind of work is very different to the precision high-end bespoke furniture, kitchens and interiors that we normally design and make. But my first degree was in sculpture, so in many ways this work takes me back to my artistic roots. It is also a bit of an escape from worrying about getting a 1.5mm gap around a door perfect. This is chunky, organic and a bit brutal – split, scorched, bent, twisted and heavy! You have to work with the curves and the material – the oak logs are what they are in terms of size and shape and the design of the whole installation is defined by that. We had a lot of fun making these benches, but it was technically challenging and very hard physical work at times…

3 Logs Cut copy

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Adam Splits 3 copy

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Uprights Scorching 2 copy

The Rickyard is maturing nicely now from the stark and barren site it started out as. The trees and shrubs have already grown significantly and the new build houses look lived in and loved. As modern developments of its type go, it looks like a nice place to live. I can imagine that when visitors come, the seating and uprights in the middle of the green come up as a topic of conversation. The residents I have spoken to really like their unusual centrepiece. It is part of their ‘landscape’ and their ‘place’ now.

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Textures of natural weathered oak logs against the stark scorched uprights. The benches are tied together with a beautifully engineered and vandal-proof stainless fixings.

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Like other public seating and artworks we have done I really enjoy going back occasionally, seeing it mature and if i’m lucky seeing a bunch of kids playing around it or a family chilling out for a moment on a walk through the development.

Part of the challenge Adam and I both enjoyed with this project was working with a major house builder. It would be fair to say they were engaged in a rather ‘arms length’ way and would probably not have chosen to put public art works on the site if it had not been a condition of planning. Indeed on the other site we worked up proposals for on the development, Mampitts Square, nothing has happened! I suspect the outcome there may be rather ordinary and ‘off the shelf’ in the end. Despite everything though, the Rickyard project got built and we helped create a new ‘common place’ for Shaftesbury where an ex Lord Mayor of London, a TV archaeologist, a couple of tennis players and I could partake in a good chinwag!

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Children defiantly get it! It’s something interesting to climb on or play around.

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If you’d like to talk to Simon about a public art or seating project please get in contact, initial conversations and ideas cost nothing. To view our Tudor Arcade Public Seating case study click here.

To find the Rickyard yourself and explore old and new Shaftesbury click here for the Dorset Explorer map.

Most images in this Case Study were taken by Double Exposure Photographic

Public Art Projects – Shaftesbury

Friday, June 8th, 2012

It’s been a long time since I mentioned any progress on the various public art projects Adam Zombory Moldovan of ZMMA Architects and I have been working on. That’s not because there has been no progress, far from it. We have now completed the model and visuals for the Common Places project in the middle of town which was recently unveiled by Shaftesbury Civic Society to coincide with the launch of Adam’s new Shaftesbury office.

We also wanted it to be on display during Dorset Art Weeks. The High Street facing studio/gallery is a venue during the event, it should mean lots of people get to see it and comment. As well as that Common Places work, Adam is showing recent architectural projects and displaying a selected show of artists from North Dorset. There is also a set of our Torii Tables on display, as well as the stunning pippy oak pivot-hinge door and elm table we made for Adam as permanent features of the space.Commons#624FA9

What we are proposing for the Commons artwork comprises of various elements including twisted cast greenstone planks which form seats and surfaces to sit, stand, perform and work on. The other major form is a sliced ‘pebble’ made of slabs of timber from local estates, reflecting the towns market status and relationship with the surrounding landscape. At ground level stone text panels made of different local stones will act as directional signage from the Commons and also tell ‘Shaftesbury tales’; those stories about characters and places in the town that would not make the guide books, but somehow tell you more about the rich culture of a place.

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Commenting on the propasals, Jan Scott, Secretary of Shaftesbury Civic Society said: “Adam and Simon’s proposals show a real sensitivity and deep understanding of the town; to its history, development, geology, geography, its palette of materials and of course its people. Common Places is also a bold statement of pride and confidence in the future of Shaftesbury.”

The other public art site(s) are on the Persimmon Homes development at East Shaftesbury. The two projects are entirely seperate in terms of funding but linked by ideas, research and a broad desire to integrate this significant new development and its new ‘settlers’ to the existing town and population. Persimmon Collage smaller

How do you make those new residents truly connect to the town, its shops and people, and not just jump in their car to shop in the larger towns around it? A public art trail can’t tackle these big issues by itself, but making those visual connections can help to create links and a cohesive vision for a small market town like Shaftesbury.

So far we have had proposals and costings accepted for the 1st East Shaftesbury Persimmon site called The Rickyard. Actual work and installation looks like it will be in early in 2013. We are now looking at a much larger second site called Mampitts Square, effectively the centre new town square with shops, parking, bus stops and public seating. There are footpaths that connect these sites to the old town and further to the surrounding landscape. These ‘routes’ give us the opportunity to repeat themes, helping to create walking, art and tourist trails with the distinctive character that old and new Shaftesbury deserves.

The Common Places scale model is now on display at the new ZMMA studio and gallery at 54a High Street, Shaftesbury.

East Shaftesbury Public Art

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Persimmon Site long

At the moment the ‘Rickyard’ is a rather wind swept space on the edge of the new East Shaftesbury Persimmon Homes development; a square waiting for its houses and residents to arrive and create a community. The only sign of what’s to come is the word ‘seat’ is optimistically sprayed on some earth surrounded by new planting. Shaftesbury is a beautiful town, a gem sitting high in the north Dorset landscape, full of history, the bustle of trade and colourful individuals. All this new housing could be seen as an imposition, a bit of an ‘interloper’.

Can art help ease this transition – make connections between old and new development, create a cohesive link between the ‘Common Places’ project we have been involved with in the centre of town and the completely new community half a mile to the East? Well Adam Zombory Moldovan from ZMMA and I believe so. Our ambition for the various public and private schemes we are working on is that they do just that, make links in both a physical and aesthetic way, linking future to past and past to present. We’d love public art to play a role in the town’s everyday life, helping guide people around, tell stories, challenge and at its most mundane provide places to sit, meet, trade and celebrate.

Rickyard 'Seat' 1Rickyard PlanRickyard logs
Rickyard plan of bench
Beyond that it could also bring an entirely new audience to Shaftesbury, those who come specifically because they love public art: I’m imagining a town celebrated for its forward thinking and cohesive approach to public art, some by Adam & I as a partnership, but also works by many others. New ideas making the place dynamic and exciting. They wouldn’t loose the visitors that come because the place is historic and achingly pretty. They may loose a few that come because of the ‘Hovis’ connection – although I suspect half of them are traveling around North Yorkshire trying to find the place. A town can not live on bread alone.

Back to the ‘Rickyard’ which will be the first site in Shaftesbury to have something completed, hopefully in late summer 2012… The concept is to link the development to the landscape around it, bringing some of that into the bricks, tarmac and planting schemes which always look so harsh before they mellow and mature. The small green where the piece will be located will be surrounded by houses – eventually. A footpath runs through the site linking the landscapes around Charlton Down and Melbury Hill to the town. This will take you right through our ‘interventions’.

Rickyard Collage smaller

The installation consists of vertically sliced oak logs which are selected for their curvy character and form. These are suspended above the ground by split scorched timber masts. Needless to say they do form seats, but I’m guessing they will be climbed on by kids and have all sorts of other uses and connotations. There will be a contrast between the organic log form and the much more finished ‘furniture like’ top surface. The texture and colour of the masts will also contrast with the bulk of the log. It’s a familiar sight to me, like the stacks of timber I’ll search through in a timber yard when selecting for a furniture commission. These are cut vertically rather horizontally though, and the cuts will follow the natural curve of the tree, creating some very exciting forms.

Next up is the more substantial ‘Mampitts Square’ a central public space within the Persimmon development where buses stop, people shops, park and live. Lots of potential for seating and public art work. Keep watching this space.

Public Art for Dorchester

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Some very exciting news for us at Simon Thomas Pirie Furniture, we have just landed another commission for a public art / seating, this time in Dorchester.

Our other ongoing project is the Shaftesbury Persimmon Homes public artwork that we are doing in partnership with ZMMA architects. That project is in itself the bi-product of the ‘Common Places’, the Shaftesbury town centre project that we won with ZMMA through an open competition. It’s strange (well perhaps not) that the projects that rely on public funding are moving very slowly, while those that are privately funded are progressing at pace. Still if we get the private initiatives done then perhaps they can in turn influence the those in the public realm.

In fact the Dorchester public seating job came about as a result of me talking on this blog – a bit of video of me talking about craft / public art / Shaftesbury. This got picked up by architects Hutchison Kivotos who then contacted me earlier this year. I didn’t mention it before because I didn’t want to talk about it until I knew it was really given the formal go ahead. In those six months we have been busy consulting with the architects, doing site surveys and doing the design work.

TC3The outline concept from the architects was a long winding seat with lots of different seating options, something that was much more than just a row of benches, a real statement – a piece of artwork. What a great brief!

It’s part of a major redevelopment of Tudor Arcade in Dorchester, one of the towns already better shopping areas with some very well known brands present like Waitrose, Fat Face, Farrow and Ball, and a great local brands like The Fridge deli and Town Mill Bakery. There is lots of development going on in Dorchester so I guess the management company are keen to keep their status as the ‘prime retail location’. To achieve that they will need to update the slightly dated feel and appearance of the environment. Part of that is our job…

TC2TC1There is some current seating, there is not much else you can say about it, it’s the same dull stuff found in most town centres, the result of no budget and no imagination (we are facing a similar curse of retro black cast iron and gold in Shaftesbury – some of it is actually plastic!) It’s fine for people to sit on, but people don’t linger, it won’t stick in their minds or make them smile. They won’t say “i’ll meet you at those great seats outside Waitrose”.

So that’s our challenge, yes it’s seating, but it is also something to lodge in the mind. We want to make people think about the quality of their environment, the quality of the design and materials, to smile and take a moment or two more.

The first concept sketches capture the idea of creating those quirky seating moments, back to back, facing different ways, love chairs, bench seats, open seating. We also wanted to make the chair elements look eye-catching and funky. So they seem to float about the benches on different angles.

TC4Following further consultation with Gavin Hutchinson we decided it would make more sense to make it 1 large striking instillation, instead of a collection on ‘benches’. We also played with more organic curved forms which has really helped to create something special. Now we are looking at an 8.5 x 2.5 metre curving snake of a piece with all sorts of sociable and intimate seating posibilities. It will have a real wow factor.

Materials wise we are using locally sourced oak from one of my Hooke Park College contacts, he is in charge of the management of many of the county’s large estate forests, so the timber used will have good local provenance. The finish will be in scorched black oak for the benching and natural oak for the seat elements. We are just about to start on prototype bench where we will resolve many of the issues like vandal proofing the structure and surface finish. One thing we do need to solve is a back slat between the back hoop and the bench surface. The purest in me would love to keep it free floating but that is probably unrealistic.

TC5It’s a very exciting project for us, using techniques that I haven’t used for some time like steam bending and scorching. I don’t think John and Mike have really used them at all, so it will add to the skill base of the workshop and in turn feed back to other projects that we already have and help us to win new ones.

We will be on the prototype bench throughout October, on site completion for the project is in the spring of 2012, so making of the actual seating will be from Christmas onwards. Keep following the blog for updates and images of progress.