TWO FOLLIES FOR HAWKINS STREET

Design and realisation of two cast in-situ follies based on long-demolished buildings that previously occupied the site.

Hawkins Street, Bristol. 2016–2021

Project Category: Long-Term

This project introduces fragments of lost and re-imagined local buildings into their sites. The follies are monumental, robust, and beautifully crafted. They evoke the past while suggesting imaginative and playful new ways of reading and inhabiting the public realm, and arose from the question: what might a new park look like if it embraced rather than erased its existing urban context?

The designs for the follies evolved from detailed site and archival research and consideration of the area’s recent history in terms of use, scale and materials. In the last 100 years parts of David Street have been opened, closed, reopened and pedestrianised; Jacob Street has been cut off from Temple Way; the fortunes of Old Market declined; Hawkins Street was built. Much of the local area was destroyed in the Second World War, and optimistic post-war planning- in particular, the construction of the Old Market Flyover road scheme in the late 1960s- problematically reshaped local pedestrian and vehicular routes. The establishment of the new park is intended to add a generous new public space to complement the increase of residential dwellings within what was previously an industrial area. 

The off-white concrete used to cast the follies refers to the whiteness of plaster of paris and marble, both traditional sculpture materials, but also to the convention in architectural model-making of representing existing buildings in white. The detailed cast surfaces are cropped by plain orthogonal faces which underline the fact that these are high-resolution copies rather than sections through the kinds of real brick and stone walls they represent. The neighbouring buildings similarly play games with material surfaces; the facades of the student housing look like context-appropriate brick, but are in fact made from thin tiles- ‘brick slips’- that are prefabricated offsite in large composite panels. They are therefore similarly referential and illusionary.

Large-scale erasure, reconnection, removal and rebuilding have defined this site for the last century. These designs address the implications of these radical changes- of memory and forgetting in material terms. From the intimacy of the eye-level detail to the scale of the neighbouring buildings, they intend to invite curiosity and act as a counterpoint to the follies’ wider built environment.

Project Credits

Client: Alaska Developments

Art Consultant: Ginkgo Projects

Fabricator: Windsor Workshop

Landscape Architect: Planit-IE, Alex Frazer Landscaping

Architect: Russ Drage Architects

Principle Contractor: Midas

 

With thanks to Ryan Chiu, Alma Hawk and Marion Delaporte, Anna Fil, Rory Sherlock and Eyal Giovannetti

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Research & Development

The Bristol Post building, prior to the adjacent Phase 2 development which transformed the enclosed garden shown into the new public park. May 2017

My initial brief was divided into two phases of the adjacent development. Phase One was almost completed when I was appointed, with Phase Two to follow. My brief was to develop a commission that would apply to the site as a whole, and was framed as ‘lead artist for a new public park’, with the artworks and landscape to be considered together.

Photograph: Credit: Bristol Reference Library

Surveyed between 1949 and 1951, this map shows the dramatic extent of bomb damage within the local area (shown in yellow). Castle Park would later be built on the cleared bomb sites of Castle Street. Note the lack of public open space, and that the only areas marked as such (in green) were later destroyed to make way for the new flyover.

Comprehensive Development Area Map (central area) no.1 Bristol reference lIbrary collectIon

My map of local public open spaces within a five-minute walk of the project site. The majority of these were established in the decades after WW2, yet few retain any trace of what previously existed on their sites.

  1. Project site;
  2. St Matthias Park est. 1880s;
  3. River Street Playground redeveloped  c1960s;
  4. Redcross Street est. 1800s;
  5. Lamb Street Park est, 1950s;
  6. Lawfords Gate Park (formerly Trinity Road Park) est. 1880s;
  7. Trinity Community Garden est. 2005;
  8. Unity Street Fair Ground redeveloped 1940s;
  9. Newtown Park est. 1980s;
  10. The Dings Park est. 1950s;
  11. Floating Harbour est 2000s;
  12. Temple Quay, 2004;
  13. Broad Plain est. 1800s;
  14. Temple Gardens est. pre-1800;
  15. Open Public Space, demolished c1960s;
  16. Castle Park est. 1978

The main part of the project site consisted of the private garden that had previously belonged to the Bristol Post building. I started my research by exploring what kinds of parks and public spaces already existed within the local area, and producing a survey of these spaces within a five minute walk of my site. I found that the majority of the green spaces were strikingly similar, characterised by extensive mown lawns and informal tree planting. This is a generic, low-maintenance format that is the familiar default for most English civic parks. Although these give an impression of being remnants of countryside enclosed by the city as it grew, in fact several of them were very recently constructed. For example, despite Castle Park’s  apparent timelessness, it was actually completed at the end of the 1970s, and erased the historic mediaeval street patterns and numerous individual cleared WW2 bomb sites in order to establish one large, mostly undifferentiated open space. 

Photograph: Credit: BrIstol Reference Library

The new Hawkins Street public garden site outlined in magenta. Note building marked as ‘P.H.’ in the top left corner. This was the Golden Bowl Public House.

Detail from the Insurance Plan of Bristol Vol 2, May 1930 and revised to May 1958.

Photograph: Credit: Bristol Reference Library

The Bristol Post building is shown, newly-built, above the Old Market Roundabout (outlined in white). The new garden, built over the site of former David Street buildings such as the Golden Bowl Pub, is clearly visible as a blank lawn next to the newly-built Hawkins Street (outlined in magenta). At this stage it was still unfenced and unplanted- as was Castle Park (outlined in a dotted black line). Note how much of the park was still paved car-park at this date.

Temple Way with Old Market Flyover and St Phillips Church. Bristol Pictoral Survey, 1978

I decided to resist this ‘tabula rasa’ approach, instead incorporating reimagined building fragments from the urban site’s recent past. My concept designs for the new Unity Street public realm consisted of a robust patchwork of hard landscaping materials based on Jacob Street’s existing surfaces; retention of all the existing trees, as well as the introduction of numerous new trees; the removal of most of the site’s low shrubs to improve sight-lines; terracing of the lawns with low walls and new planting to improve access and to break up the green space into a series of welcoming ‘outdoor rooms’, and five new finely-crafted follies based on fragments of old and existing local structures. 

Photograph: Credit: BrIstol Reference Library

Cleared city-centre sites such as this were often used as informal playgrounds and community gardens before being redeveloped, and as such offered substantially more extensive (though temporary) public space in city centres than had ever previously existed. Fragments of basement walls and fireplaces surround wild plants and variations in the ground level divide the landscape into a varied terrain quite different from conventional flat, undifferentiated park lawns.

Bomb Damage, Castle Street area, c1946.

The new Hawkins Street public garden site outlined in magenta. Note building marked as ‘P.H.’ in the top left corner. This was the Golden Bowl Public House.

Detail from the Insurance Plan of Bristol Vol 2, May 1930 and revised to May 1958. 

Credit: Bristol Reference Library

The art commission and approach to the landscaping were initially considered together, and were intended to be fully integrated. Later, the client decided not to proceed with my proposals for the park as a whole beyond the concept design stage, so from that point my commission evolved to focus on the detailed design and realisation of the follies.

The three follies completed in Phase 1 were cast from silicone moulds taken from a 19th century wall that was demolished to make way for Phase 2. Those follies were made from Jesmonite- a thin material similar to fibreglass- supported with an internal steel frame. Please see this page (link here) for details.

Visiting the Bristol Reference Library, we found two photographs from the picture archive which became the basis for my designs. Both show David Street  (the street that used to run through the project site), one looking north and the other looking south. The photographs are labelled on the back in ink, with the date- “c1968” -included (perhaps tentatively) in pencil. The Gardiner Haskins and Shepherd’s Hall buildings are identifiable by their distinctive facades, but the David Street in the photographs no longer exists. Along with other local buildings, it was demolished to make way for the adjacent Bristol Post building and its garden. One of the demolished buildings was the Golden Bowl pub, dilapidated in these pictures with its windows smashed or boarded up. The pub sign is missing, though the sign’s decorative wrought iron bracket remains. Presumably, the derelict pub was knocked down not long after the pictures were taken.

Photograph: Credit: BrIstol Reference Library

Davies Street, C.1968, looking north. Shepherd’s Hall is the brick building at the far end of the street. The Golden Bowl is the next building along.

Photograph: Credit: BrIstol Reference Library

Davies Street, C.1968, looking south. The Golden Bowl is the boarded-up building with the classical porticos framing its window and front door. Gardiner Haskins is the large brick and stone building at the far end of the street.

I find these pictures so striking, evidence of the city that has both endured and vanished. The archive holds no records about who took these pictures, nor why they were taken. Were they intended to capture the street scene before much of it was erased? The pictures record such different registers of time- from the Victorian buildings which have remained more-or-less unchanged for over a century, to the car and telephone wire fixings that were perhaps in circulation for a decade; the newspaper read and discarded in a day; the walk a man took regularly enough not to need to look where he’s going, captured beautifully a fraction of a second before his heel meets the pavement.  

The facade of the Golden Bowl and its neighbouring building contain characterful details. The pale panel of pebbledash within the rendered wall, marking the courtyard behind. The boot scraper tucked neatly into the wall next to the front door steps. The grille over the basement window. The oddly-proportioned classical portico framing the pub’s window and doorway.

Animation showing the Golden Bowl pub facades translated into the folly. Summer 2020.

My designs took these details as a starting point for a folly as an architectural fragment. Based on the building’s similarly L-shaped plan, I rearranged door and window openings to produce framed ledges at seat height, and introduced openings through the structure to maintain consistent sight lines. With no photographic information about the building’s interior I extrapolated from familiar pub architecture, including door mouldings, a decorative dado rail, textured wallpaper and light switch. 

Old brick facades retained by the development site facing Unity Street. September 2018

Sample of the brick slip prefabricated panels assembled on site, March 2017

Buildings regularly play with materials and resemblance, often as a humourless and pragmatic cost-saving subterfuge. ‘Facadism’ is at work when old facades are preserved and used to disguise a contemporary development’s replacement of old internal structures. Maintaining a traditional appearance is often a planning application-friendly strategy, as it maintains the external appearance of a heritage building (while discarding its authentic interior). The same ethos can be found in the brick slip. It presents an acceptably traditional face, but rather than acting as a load-bearing element, the brick is transformed into a thin, lightweight tile which can be prefabricated cheaply into large panels offsite and craned quickly into position.

The Golden Bowl pub was probably constructed from brick, coated with a smooth cement rendered surface to complement its classical details. Neighbouring Shepherd’s Hall uses brick as a load-bearing structural material and self-finished surface consistent with its arts-and-crafts style. The Bristol Post building, which replaced the Golden Bowl in the 1970s, is constructed in hefty reinforced concrete. Uncompromisingly modernist in scale and design it is nonetheless entirely clad in solid brick, perhaps as a material concession to its long-established neighbours. Phase 1 and 2 of the Print Hall student accommodation development replace the building in which the Bristol Post printed its newspapers, and a number of old warehouses between Jacob and Unity Street. Both new developments are largely clad in brick slip panels, and Phase 2 retained and integrated one of Unity Street’s old brick facades.  

Elevation drawing showing the Print Hall developments and five follies from Phase 1 and 2 of the development. Summer 2020

I think there’s something curious- and not a little uncanny- about inhabiting a city which treats buildings as scenography. The confidence and optimism we once had about innovative materials and radical design that was boldly expressed in post-war buildings- inside and out- has been gradually eroded, and a broad cultural preference for traditional forms and materials is manifested in so many contemporary developments. However, like the brick slip, this conservatism is often only skin deep, as conveyed in every length of plastic oak veneered engineered flooring and printed marble ceramic tile. We seem to like our buildings’ innovation hidden behind images of old and familiar materials.

Initial exploratory casts using a range of materials at Windsor Workshop. July 2019

Initial exploratory casts using a range of materials at Windsor Workshop. September 2019

As with the follies in Phase 1, my intention was to take some playful liberties with representation and materiality by transforming all their architectural elements- stone, brick, cement, render, timber, wallpaper and so on-  into one unifying structural material by casting them monolithically. The section cut usually reveals what’s beneath the surface. As in Phase 1, my intention was to make it clear within the follies’ sections that their form, surface textures and materiality were not what they first appeared to be. 

The three follies completed in Phase 1 were cast from silicone moulds taken from a 19th century wall that was demolished to make way for Phase 2. Those follies were made from Jesmonite- a thin material similar to fibreglass- supported with an internal steel frame. In contrast, the follies in Phase 2 were cast in situ in a pale 70% GGBS concrete using purpose-made timber formwork.

Constructing the timber formwork at Windsor Workshop. March 2020.

Windsor Workshop fabricated the follies. Numerous initial test casts were produced in preparation for constructing the full-sized formwork, including testing the brick textured wallpaper that was be used for the interior walls of the pub folly and multiple iterations cast from standard timber mouldings to create inverse details. The brick texture used in the folly adjacent to Unity Street, based on Victorian brick facade retained within the development next door, was cast from textured panels intended to be used on stage and screen, and sourced from a theatre supply company.

Removing the shuttering to reveal the concrete casts. August 2020

The dado rail features an inscription from Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 that seemed fitting to the pub’s fate and it’s name: “..Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, then shall the dust return to the earth as it was”.

Buildings are never ‘finished’. They are assemblies of myriad component parts in a state of pause, wearing out or becoming obsolete at different speeds, requiring care to slow down their decay. 

Detail of the folly’s cast textures, May 2021

Removing the shuttering to reveal the concrete casts. August 2020

Detail of the folly’s cast textures, May 2021

Detail of the folly’s cast brick texture, May 2021

I accepted the initial brief for this project in 2016. I chose to use concrete due to its flexibility and durability. However, if I was starting again today, I would take a different approach. In the context of the climate crisis the use of concrete- and single-use, disposable formwork- seems questionable at best and irresponsible at worst. In future, my intention is to address the reuse of materials as much as possible. In the mean time, I hope the follies are welcome new additions to their old neighbourhood, that they weather gracefully, and last for years.

The completed buildings on Unity Street incorporating the retained old facades. April 2021