In Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essay on Architecture, the long-standing Vitruvian belief that architecture had its roots in nature was such a matter-of-fact that the book’s frontispiece depicted a primitive hut partially made from living trees. Charles Holland, director and co-founder of British art, design and architecture studio Ordinary Architecture, however, is eager to counter this “myth.” Holland aims to do so with his firm’s recently unveiled installation, Foundation Myths.
On view at The Artists Garden, part of the York Art Gallery in England, Foundation Myths comprises ten bright yellow ceramic tree trunks laid out in a linear fashion. At first glance, the installation resembles the remaining pedestals of an ancient colonnade. Speaking to The Architect’s Newspaper (AN), Holland said the layout also referred to the structural grid of timber columns that composed the now-destroyed “Great Shed,” a structure used for the Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition of 1879. Holland spoke of how he and his firm were eager to reference this in their work, especially given that it was the first commission for the gallery setting.
“We wanted it to have the characteristic of ruins, meanwhile, the character of the trees befitted the column’s structure,” Holland explained. “Even when they’re growing, they’re becoming a column,” he added in reference to Laugier and his frontispiece. This may not seem to dispel Laugier’s “myth” until you consider Ordinary Architecture’s aesthetic and material choices. The bright yellow terra-cotta tree trunks create what Holland described as a “pop-ruin.” The yellow—inpsired by the local flowers—causes the installation to stand out (in an explicitly unnatural fashion) from the historic surroundings. As a result, Foundation Myths appears as a “formal ruin” while being materially alien and “clearly new.” Additionally, the material choice also makes a nod to the Center of Ceramic Art, a new exhibition space at the York Art Gallery which is the largest of its kind in the U.K.
To create the stumps, Holland and his studio used young beech trees—chosen for their smooth trunks which made them ideal for ceramic casting—as inspiration. A series of maquettes were made, later being scaled up as clay molds. After this, the terra-cotta casts were made and glazed by the ceramic manufacturer Darwen, the same company Holland used for his A House for Essex‘s ornate terra-cotta facade.
Foundation Myths will be on display for one year, running through to August 2017 at the York Art Gallery.