The Observatory: The Study and The Workshop

The Observatory: The Study and The Workshop

In the summer of 2015, the idyllic shoreline of Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve was home to a pair of lightweight timber cabins, known collectively as The Observatory.

In the summer of 2015, the idyllic shoreline of Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve was home to a pair of lightweight timber cabins, known collectively as The Observatory. One cabin, ‘The Study’, is an artist’s studio, a weathertight enclosure where the artist can work and contemplate the landscape. The other, ‘The Workshop’, is a sheltered observation place where an artist can connect to an audience and present their work and where local people can linger to experience the landscape themselves.

The structures are of timber – prefabricated, lightweight and mobile. After a summer at Lymington, they were hoisted on to the back of a trailer and moved to another remote site on the south coast, to be inhabited by another artist and a different public (it is now installed in Mottisfont Abbey).

The Observatory was the winning entry in an international competition, designed by a team of four architectural graduates based at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios in London, together with Devon-based artist Edward Crumpton. The competition brief was to create a structure that could house a succession of multi-disciplinary artists for the next two years, one which could directly engage with the public in remote landscapes, yet which could be light enough to be moved easily from one place to another.

As the architects explain, “The design was inspired by the geometric forms of the artist Sol de Wit and by a 15th century painting of Saint Jerome in his Study in which the viewer looks into the framed space of the artist, with a landscape framed beyond.”

Likewise, The Observatory structures create a frame through which people can observe the artist’s interior space, while from inside the artist’s own views of the landscape are framed. To change this view and face new points of interest, the Study and The Workshop each stand on a circular steel base with wheels that allow it to rotate on a central pivot.

Both cabins are lightweight and prefabricated timber structures. Timber was the obvious choice of material for construction and external and internal cladding, for its sustainability, harmony with the rural landscape, and capability to resist the weather conditions of remote and windy parts of the coast. As the cabins had to be moved to a variety of different locations, some of which might be off-road and only accessible by tractor, they are designed to be transported together on an 8 x 2 metre flatbed truck.

The project has also been used by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to test and develop innovative timber cladding materials and preservation techniques, including the use of home-grown charred timbers. Internally, the cabins are lined with Accoya® and Tricoya®, both relatively new and sustainable timber products.

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