I have been working in collaboration with Andrew Lapthorn Furniture on a series of 6 monolithic granite and English Elm seats to be positioned at key anchor points within the streetscape of our Chatham Placemaking Project.
Andrew is a furniture designer and maker. He has a workshop within the Historic Dockyard Chatham. It is almost impossible to consider the historic and social fabric of Chatham without the Dockyard playing a major role. We have consulted with Nigel Howard, Historic Environment and Buildings Manager for the Dockyard throughout the project and have been granted access to their archives and buildings. They have been very generous in their support. When Nigel was made aware we were proposing to work with Andrew on the project he made a very generous gift to the project of seasoned timber, free of charge from the historic Timber Seasoning Sheds. Nigel had also generously offered us some monolithic slabs of granite, which have great historic resonance to our project, which we have unfortunately not been in a position to use as yet – but never say never !
The quality of some of these images is poor I’m afraid, but the content is pretty amazing…the interiors of the seasoning sheds have an otherworldly feel about them. These buildings were erected in 1775, to provide the Admiralty with at least 3 years of timber. Andrew unearthed some massive planks of English Elm. The age of the timber was hard to discern. Andrew thinks it may have been here for decades as least. The actual tree or trees they were cut or salvaged from could have been well over a century old before felling or being toppled through the effects of storm damage.
As with all creative proposals, we have been through various iterations, responded to challenges and made changes along the way. The following images relate to this design and creative process and show the evolution of the work and some of the outcomes on the street.
In 2016, during the early concept and development stages of the project, I had proposed this series of benches as a way of exploring the relationship between the significant building materials of the Historic Dockyard and the materials and contextual ideas being explored along out project route through Chatham Town.
The Chatham Patterns were a significant part of our concept to develop a distinct and site specific visual language for the streetscape and our creative public realm work. I collaborated with Xtina Lamb, Printmaker on this work. In this instance, the patterns were to be sandblasted into the honed surface of the monolithic granite blocks by Hardscape.
Andrew responded to these early draft ideas and we discussed incorporating traditional techniques for creating large scale joints and methods for joining and connecting timber, which would be suggestive and resonant of shipbuilding in Chatham, as well as exploring advances in technology such as laminating and bending timber. These are his drawings – & his hands…
In early November 2018, FrancisKnight and I visited Andrew at his workshop to see progress on the benches. I was blown away by the beauty and craftsmanship around me. The English Elm has the most wonderful patterns and figures in the grain. There was even half a face staring our at me. We were really so impressed. The work was solid, beautiful, resonant and robust, which is just as well as life as a street bench is tough !
I couldn’t resist creating a mirror image – a portrait in English Elm.