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Pottery and Architecture

This post was originally simply meant to be about the studios recent experience making clay pots however, as always, reflecting on the process lead me to further contemplation on my own creative origins and relationship to practicing architecture. So it has turned into more of a ramble of my working mind.  

My granddad is an excellent carpenter, growing up he was always making, fixing and recommissioning old goods. Everything was reused, anything was fixed. Objects were bought broken; to be fixed and used like they were new to us. It wasn’t necessarily an environmental agenda, as we have today, it was simply the way; a continually creative, cyclic, response born of the feeling of limited resources.

My grandad’s ‘way’ is very important to me. It is this that gave birth to my creativity and the desire to make and fix things. Combined with a love of building(s) my vision turned to become an architect.

What I didn’t realise was how distant architects can be from making the actual buildings they design. Studying was most frustrating as you never even got to experience your buildings built, lingering only in the imagination and old bits of paper in the loft.

Being an architect can have a very indirect process of design, it’s the nature of creating technically complex buildings. On paper or in models it remains only an expression of one’s creative ambition, it is not until construction that the physical magic starts to happen.

PAD studio work with many talented contractors and craftsman to build our buildings. These people are invested in the designers and client’s ambitions, they wish to collaborate, they also want to express the mastery of their skills. The detail may be designed on paper, the vision expressed, but it is important to trust in the experience of the makers. 

 

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Our studio outing this year outing was a day at Vinegar Hill Pottery Studio. I had never done pottery before and always fanaticised about being a sculpture or potter. The thought of creating directly with natural material appealed to me. Our teacher, master potter David Rogers was outstanding. His enthusiasm, knowledge, relationship and approach to making were enthralling, I was hooked from the very beginning.

This was making as I had never done before. The interconnection between mind, body and material are an introspective practice that I could release myself into. The artistic vision or ‘design’ was as simple as ‘make a cylinder’ would then release me into this meditative relationship teasing out the cylinder form. It is a very direct process. Interjections of formal technique would be offered by David either through words or expressed by the mastery of his hands. You could not overthink the techniques you learn or hold the vision of the pot too tightly, too vigorously, too complete. Any kind of tension in the mind, body or material would only be expressed in its form, surface or structure. The pot emerges as we emerge, the attitude of the potter is easily expressed in its result.

Unlike creating a building creating a pot was not pre-planned; multiple details, plans or sections were not drawn, or specification written. It was not thought into being by the mind and technical calculations but a direct consequence of that given moment. Beyond the vision of its basic form, its character and quality were born during that process and relationship of mind, body and material.

 

What is beautiful about pottery is its primal qualities, the direct forming of earth into a vessel by one’s own body. Sverre Fehn captures the qualities of this act when discussing the root of architecture beyond the complexities of today in a paper ‘Has a Doll Life’. Like architects Sverre Fehn, Peter Zumthor and Jorn Utzon to whom I aspire it is a quality that we are attempting to capture in architecture even if it is only in a small part or detail of a project. Fehn comments: 

‘Laminated wood has no limitations. Entire Forests can be glued together to produce a mass. Material no longer has an identity in relation to its source. The universe is now measurable spheres. The sun and the moon have ceased to be mysteries, as we live in a world of just one scale: the relationship of small and large…Our world is [now] calculated. At one time it must have been extremely exciting: the moment the construction met the earth and gave rise to its dimension.’ (Sverre Fehn. Has a Doll Life. P46) 

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This is the excitement that I personally experienced in throwing a pot, discovering the limitations of the clay. The clay has an identity and a scale of its own. It conveys its innate limitations and we are working with these; with confidence, we can form mass. This leads to a deeper, conscious understanding or awareness of the material’s subtle qualities. These qualities develop with time, exposure to air, water saturation, of working the clay. We are not trying to conquer the limitations of the material, we are trying to get to know them better, have a more intrinsic relationship to them.

Construction technology has deeply changed this relationship to the material. PAD studios’ architecture is constantly trying to work towards revealing this excitement of construction, ‘giving rise to its dimension’. Materiality and construction are now complex with constantly evolving technology, regulations, increasing cost of traditional crafts and tighter budgets. It makes for a very tough challenge. Our work attempts to be as much part of the future as it is the past; connected to these primal qualities. Each project is born of its context, the spirit of the client and their brief.