A Naturally Creative Partnership

Standing in Bovey Valley’s Pullabrook Wood are a number of mighty Douglas fir trees. Planted around 50 years ago they are now producing some fine quality construction timber and, this summer, a few of these weighty stems were selectively felled and transported to Hooke Park in Dorset for a uniquely creative project.  The skilful felling of the timber, was described in a previous blog A Tall Order‘.

In July, under the Architectural Association’s Visiting School summer workshop, a group of architectural students from around the world came together for a two-week intensive design and build project. Using the timber from Pullabrook Wood and wood from the Hooke Park estate in Dorset, they created the first stage of a new boardwalk and ‘pavilion’, adjacent to a wild wetland meadow at the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve (Dorset Wildlife Trust).

The various threads of this partnership project were pulled together by Common Ground, an arts and environmental charity based in Dorset.  They seek to find imaginative ways to engage people with their local environment and celebrate the intimate connections communities have with the landscape that surrounds them. This project has achieved just that, and Clementine Blakemore, one of the project leaders and a professional architect, described how the project came together and how the Woodland Trust have become so closely involved.

“Working with engineers at Structure Workshop, we designed the first stage of the boardwalk and the pavilion structure. We’ll be building it incrementally, and the first phase is nearly complete. The students have been together for two weeks to make the structure but there’s a social element to it as well”. 

In a recent article about the Boardwalk project, Clem explained “The main challenge (unsurprisingly!) is financial. Sculptural building projects, however small, end up incurring significant costs.  Which is why it is wonderful to have had the support of the Woodland Trust, who are not only co-funding this residency project but also supplying additional timber from a woodland that they manage in the Bovey Valley, Devon”. 

clem sign painting
Scarlett and Clem painting signs, in preparation for the ‘topping out’ ceremony

While Clem and the architectural students, hand painted some signs in preparation for the ‘topping out’ ceremony, they discussed their experiences of the summer workshop. Scarlett, a student from China, said “it’s my first time abroad so I can improve my English as well as my architectural skills. There are a lot of technical terms in the workshop but everybody helps me a lot. It’s an explosion of information!”

Clem finished by saying, “many courses are theoretical but this is an opportunity to build something and see the reality of construction. Students can pick up many skills by osmosis, from just being together!”

See the students’ blog

Out on site, at the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve, the students had been battling some heavy downpours but, protected under tarpaulin sheets, they were winning. The last few strips of timber were being fixed in place, and the boardwalk and pavilion were taking shape. As the final ceremony approached, the structure was still under wraps, not to be revealed quite yet, but the anticipation was building.

three under tarp
Students discuss the construction details

Some weeks earlier, local volunteers had cleared away the old broken boardwalk timbers to create space for the new architectural form to rise up beside the River Hooke and, as the weather-proof sheeting was removed, a spell of glowing evening sunlight caught the timber. After a quick clean up to remove muddy boot prints, there it was! A fresh, new addition to the nature reserve and perfectly suited to its surroundings. A place to sit, watch the wildlife and enjoy the scent of meadow sweet drifting on the breeze. Taking a moment to reflect, Alex Thomas, the timber frame expert and co-tutor of the project, stood back. “It’s been an ambitious project but they’ve done really well, they’ve achieved a lot”.

finished product
Pavilion and boardwalk ready for the topping out ceremony

The second phase of the boardwalk with another platform for outdoor activities is due next year but, for now, in an aromatic atmosphere of freshly sawn timber, this first stage will perform its task of bringing together people and wildlife in this magical place. A discerning design and accomplished construction, showing local timber in its best light.

Meadow sweet – looking across the wildflower meadow from the new pavilion

The Woodland Trust has collaborated with Common Ground on this project and others across the country, as part of the Tree Charter campaign.  The Woodland Trust is working with over 70 organisations, to create a Charter for Trees, Woods and People.  Challenging people all across the country to consider their relationship with trees and to reflect on the importance of trees and woods in our culture, environment and economy. You can read more about the campaign and sign the Charter on the Woodland Trust website.

You can also read an article by Clementine Blakemore, about the Boardwalk project, on page 14 of Common Ground’s LEAF! Newspaper summer 2017

by Matt Parkins

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