The Observatory: The Study & The Workshop
Small Project Winner 2015
Location: Various (currently Lymington Salt Marshes)
Architect: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Main Contractor/Builder: S&S Construction
Engineer: Unitspark Ltd
Wood Supplier: Lathams
Wood Species: Siberian Larch, Native Home Grown Larch, Canadian Western Red Cedar, Native Home Grown Chestnut, European Oak, Coillte Smartply, Structural Softwood, Tricoya, Accoya
The brief was to create a mobile and sculptural building to house 12 multidisciplinary artists over a two-year residency that the public can directly engage with in remote landscapes and coastal locations in the UK. The Observatory comprises two prefabricated cabins, an artist’s studio (The Study) and a public shelter (The Workshop), that can be transported together on an 8x2m lorry truck.
A durable structure was required to withstand the conditions of the windy coastal and rural locations. Externally, both cabins of The Observatory are covered in a charred timber rain screen cladding of a variety of different timber species. Each cabin is clad in charred homegrown UK Larch and imported Siberian Larch with a ‘test bed’ wall clad in a variety of charred timber including cedar, oak and chestnut. Given the limited information available on the properties and architectural applications of charred timbers, the design team will research and monitor the effects of time and weathering of various species on the ‘test bed’ wall and the imported and home-grown Larch, all of which have varying moisture content, grain and density.
The decision to char timber was inspired by the familiar art medium of charcoal. It was also desirable as it acts as an insect and rot repellent and creates a unique textured of timber blisters. The timber was burnt using Shou Sugi Ban, a traditional method of burning and preserving wood economically and sustainably. This involves assembling a chimneystack of several braced timber planks, which burn from the bottom upwards, charring the timber within several minutes. The design team will record and monitor the condition of the charred timber as a field that is still largely unexplored in architecture.
As a contrast to the dark and textured exterior, the interior is made of light Accoya and Tricoya, a virtually rot proof timber that is highly durable, lasting 50 years when exposed to the outdoor weather above ground without painting or varnishing.
A durable, hand-made tarred marlin rope screen, created by artist Edward Crumpton and inspired by the fisherman’s rope, connects The Observatory to its coastal locations and landscapes. Although the brief was to design temporary structures the design team envisages that, after the two-year residency period, The Observatory could be set in a permanent location for the public to enjoy.
Further Sustainability Information: The Observatory is self-sufficient and environmentally safe, with a rainwater harvesting facility providing the artists a filtered supply of water, which is decontaminated before being released back into the environment. Electricity provided by a solar panel is able to power a light bulb and laptop. During use, the structures are able to manually rotate towards the sun to gain heat or find shade. Their ability to rotate also offers protection from the wind and the rain. Timber is FSC certified.