When we heard about the three-day green Woodland Design Lab, we pulled on our boots, packed our camping bags, and booked our train ticket straight from Liverpool to Wales to be a part of it! Run by Jenny Hall of Crafted Space and Tabitha Pope of Recycled Venues (the same folks who dreamed up this crazy CD Fish at the Glastonbury Festival), and held in the verdant Snowdonia National Park, the lab attracted an inspired group of roughly 20 green-minded architects, artists, builders, designers, and structural engineers who were not at all deterred by camping in muddy, soggy conditions. The idea behind the lab was to learn about site specific design in a short amount of time using all natural materials that were largely harvested directly from the Graig Wen campsite where we stayed. (If that sounds weird to American campers used to strict National Park laws, you should know that none were broken in Wales!) After roaming what was once a slate quarry and choosing their favorite sites, the group split off into small teams that constructed three awesome pieces of art cum architecture (come rain or sunshine) in just one and a half days - including the incredible wooden Skybowl you see above.
On our first morning there, and all subsequent mornings, Tabitha played a few notes on her violin to wake us up (in lieu of a loud, harsh alarm clock), which is when we realized how serious these incredible women are about treading gently on the earth. Really – everything about this project was sustainable. In addition to sourcing their materials responsibly, many of the power tools were charged using a single solar panel that performed pretty well despite the inclement weather, we all ate delicious vegetarian meals (for which some of the food was brought in from local gardens) three times a day, our organic waste was left in a compost heap dug at the site, and all other waste was set aside for recycling. We even had a green-roofed compost toilet on site (designed earlier by Jenny).
Each of the projects created on the trip was unique. Wanting to power something musical using water from an on-site stream, one group designed the “Piddle Paddle Plonk” – a series of five wooden “dongers” attached to a water wheel. They created a flume using a hollowed out log from the site, which funneled water to the wheel. Not satisfied with the lovely clapping sound the water made when it hit the wheel’s wooden flaps, the team added five tiny logs that were also slightly carved out and hung from the axis, where they were lined up with the “dongers” to produce musical notes.
Another group wanted a communal star-gazing experience. Called the “Skybowl,” this project consisted of seven long poles erected at an angle that would best facilitate star-gazing while standing. This frame was then clad with thin sawn timber strips and planks, and a perfect slate rock was placed in the center as a foot rest. Many people spent a fun evening playing accordions, guitars, and violins in this unifying structure, which is exactly the kind of light-hearted spirit the group hoped to achieve. The Skybowl was probably the most ambitious project, and will be left for the campsite owners to do with as they please.
The last group found a dead tree in the middle of the woods, quite far from base camp. Jenny then showed them how to create an interesting (and strong) triangular-shaped assembly of willow branches and short ash logs using traditional mortice and tenon joints. The group took up this technique to form the Fungidome – a geometric structure that juts out of the dead tree in a random, rhizomatic manner. Not only is it very interesting to look at, and strong enough for a couple of people to sit on, it also makes a pretty good drum.
The campsite owners will have no trouble taking down these beautiful pieces should that need arise, and all of the materials can be easily recycled or re-assembled elsewhere. They didn’t build the Eiffel Tower in one day, but we were still amazed at the dedication this team showed to the artistic integrity and sustainability of their projects, as well as by the incredible camaraderie that existed between like-minded friends and strangers. Inspired by the numerous ideas generated by the Woodland Design Lab’s huge success, Jenny and Tabitha hope to conduct similar events in the future, and we’ll be sitting at the edge our seats hoping for an invite!
all images by Tafline Laylin except where otherwise noted