Drawn to the Forest

What can you make with 4.4km of bright blue nylon cord? Students at the Architectural Association’s Hooke Park forest campus in Dorset are using it to generate a structure whose form is dictated by sunlight.

Just a few metres of the blue cord at the MakeLAB project

Using a complicated computer control system and CNC pointer, the students pass cord around and between slender birch trees in a woodland clearing to create a web-like mesh of intersecting strands. Part of the AA’s MakeLAB project, this week-long school has as its title ‘Emergent Construction’ and looks at new ways of developing design and production methods.

Invited to visit the Hooke Park site to preview the newly built Big Shed by AA photographer Valerie Bennett, it was impossible not to be in complete awe of the talents that had created the range of structures in this setting within a 350-acre working forest.

The Big Shed interior – photograph by Valerie Bennett

Using resources from the site, the Big Shed structure was designed as a hangar-like workshop for student constructions and its interior seemed to defy gravity, with no clear visual reference to any true vertical lines, and the only horizontal structure seemingly the concrete floor. Dizzyingly elegant, drop-dead lovely and utterly captivating.

This visit led me to consider the true nature of drawing – surely the most basic tool of the architect?  As a council member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art, I have often been part of a team pondering the true definition of drawing, and the only conclusion that has ever gained consensus is that there is no one defining sentence that can be set down as a rule. Instinct, gut feeling and personal reaction seemed to be our only guides. How, then, to define the blue cords? They looked like a 3-dimensional drawing, but the intelligence behind the placement was truly artificial; the ‘hand of man’ had been guided in every aspect by machine. Yet it looked like a drawing! So a quick check of the SGFA rules of eligibility inform that ‘digital imagery generated by computer’ is not allowed – also how would we transport a whole forest into an exhibition? So clearly my only resource is to go back to the forest and sit and draw the whole thing!

The Big Shed exterior, photograph by Valerie Bennett

Viewed from above, the building looks like a dropped hankerchief. The Big Shed is shortly due to be officially opened, and I admit to a degree of jealousy of the students who will soon have it as their workplace. But then I remember I have central heating in my studio, and only a few spiders, so perhaps not so envious after all.

I am indebted to Valerie Bennett for facilitating this visit, but much of the site is publicly accessible through a range of paths and bridleways, so these buildings and constructions are available to all to see. More information can be found on the website of the Architectural Association http://www.aaschool.ac.uk and more details of the MakeLAB project are at http://makelab.aaschool.ac.uk/

Christine Hopkins SGFA

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The Society of Graphic Fine Art
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1 Response to Drawn to the Forest

  1. Susan Poole says:

    An enjoyable and interesting article. Thanks for sharing it. Highlighted one of the definitions of drawing, Paul Klee’s ‘a drawing is simply a line going for a walk’.

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