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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

Outlandia Fieldstation in Lochaber, Scotland by Malcolm Fraser Architect and London Fieldworks

 
January 4th, 2012 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Malcolm Fraser Architect and London Fieldworks

Outlandia is an off-grid treehouse observatory and fieldstation in Glen Nevis, Lochaber, Scotland. A flexible meeting space in the forest for creative collaboration and research, Imagined by London Fieldworks and designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects.

Outlandia view from above in forest (Images Courtesy Malcolm Fraser Architects)

The Highland Council commissioned art partnership London Fieldworks (Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson) to develop a legacy project for the celebration of Highland culture in 2007. London Fieldworks came up with the Outlandia concept and invited Malcolm Fraser Architects to collaborate and come up with the design. Inspiration came from childhood dens, wildlife hides and bothies, from forest outlaws and Japanese poetry platforms. Outlandia is located in a copse of Norwegian Spruce and Larch on Forestry Commission land, at the foot of Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands, two miles from the town of Fort William. Outlandia is an artist-led project built to foster links between creativity and the environment.

The design and construction of Outlandia was funded by:

  1. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
  2. The Highland Council
  3. Highlands and Islands Enterprise
  4. Scottish Arts Council
  5. The Nevis Partnership

 

Outlandia in immediate context (Images Courtesy Malcolm Fraser Architects)

The Project Brief was nice and loose: an artists’ fieldstation in Glen Nevis, to allow and encourage creative interaction between artists and the land, its history and people. The site was even looser: somewhere in Glen Nevis. Where, exactly, grew out of a complex negotiation with partners, landowners and the local authorities, which brought to the surface some interesting tensions – a portion of the climbing fraternity, for instance, believes that hills should be for serious craggies only, and that artists should be kept away.

On the ground, the choice of site grew out of long crawls through wet undergrowth and up wooded slopes, in clouds of midges and carpets of pine needles, in search of natural and human drama. The site chosen is full of it. Sitting half-way up the opposite side of the Glen to Ben Nevis, a visitor approaches Outlandia through the path we cut through the dense woods behind, descending out the musty dark of the trees into a big view which, from dark-to-light and framed by old, tall larches, opens-up across the Glen to the shoulder of the Ben.

 

Outlandia view from distance (Images Courtesy Malcolm Fraser Architects)

The view of great nature dazzles, but we soon start to see the multiplicity of human interaction with it: the routes threading across the view, from the main road and West Highland Way along the foot of the Glen to the tourist route up the Ben, with its strings of tiny bobbling hats working their way up the hill; the car parks, caravan parks and visitor centre, places of the modern tourist trade; the old mills and older burial mounds, traces of more ancient useage; and the great industrial aluminium smelter across the Glen and the hydro that powers it. Nothing could be further from the idea of the Highlands as “unspoilt wilderness”.

We have long been part of this landscape, and it seems unlikely that any artists making work for, from or around Outlandia would fail to enjoy and illuminate the tensions around nature, industry, tourism and heritage. The building itself sits out from a 45 degree slope: a treehouse, part-built out the trees cut down to form the site, entered across a bridge from the slope behind; a simple box, leaning-out into the view with big windows opening-up to it. Part of the building of it was a low-impact, ecofriendly use of material recovered from the site; part the opposite, high-impact and hairy landings of concrete, for the foundations, from a helicopter. Construction was part-joinery, part-forestry and part-mountain rescue, with a local contractor who nicely combined all three, and an unusual set of Risk Assessments.

 

Outlandia view from window of workspace (Images Courtesy Malcolm Fraser Architects)

London Fieldworks practice

London Fieldworks practice is typically inter-disciplinary, collaborative and socially engaged, working across installation, sculpture, architecture, film and animation. Projects have explored the authenticity of mediated experience and experience of place; the creation of alternative narratives drawn from the histories of place, society and culture; and the poetic applications of technology. These ideas are seminal to the artists’ notion of ecology as a complex inter-working of social, natural, and technological worlds. Imaginatively sited projects in urban and rural settings have been inspired by research undertaken in remote sites in Brazil, North East Greenland, Northern Norway, Scottish Highlands and the USA.

More recently LFW have been exploring concepts of “performative architecture”, platforms and opportunities for both human and animal residencies in rural and urban green spaces, encouraging biodiversity and sustainability. Examples include: Super Kingdom, a series of animal show homes modeled on dictators palaces and created in collaboration with Consarc Architects and Webb Yates Engineers (commissioned by Stour Valley Arts, Kings Wood, Kent 2008-ongoing); Spontaneous City in the tree of heaven, a series of birdhouses drawing on the local architecture of the Worlds End Estate Chelsea, Georgian town houses and 60’s social housing in Islington, (commissioned by Up Projects, Chelsea and Islington, 2010-ongoing), Outlandia, an artists field station created in collaboration with Malcolm Fraser Architects, Forestry Commission Scotland and Buro Happold Engineers (commissioned by Highland Council, Glen Nevis, Scotland 2010-ongoing).

 

Outlandia design development drawings (Images Courtesy Malcolm Fraser Architects)

Malcolm Fraser Architects

Malcolm Fraser Architects are primarily an architectural practice. We undertake a wide variety of architectural projects, involving a diverse range of building type, size, and location, from small domestic house extensions, private houses, bars and restaurants, to small and medium sized buildings and developments through to large scale multi million pound master-planning projects. Our work covers a variety of different building types such as public buildings, residential, educational buildings, arts and cultural buildings, commercial buildings, places of worship, community buildings and master-planning projects, and involves both new build construction as well as working with existing buildings, and in a lot of cases, buildings that are listed. We have worked on projects in tight city centre sites, urban and suburban locations as well as rural locations.

Our designs attempt to foster rich human relationships with the natural and built environment. We focus on such issues as: orientation to sun, view and light; movement in and around a building; connections between internal and external spaces; and materials and their sensory impact. We believe that buildings can be as simple as is consistent with these aims, and that the architecture should nurture and fortify the positive actions and feelings of the people experiencing it. Ultimately, we want to create buildings where the architecture, though intrinsically beautiful, only truly comes alive in relation to those who use it. Our primary consideration is the responses of those users: how they are drawn into a building, how practical they find it to use and how well they can connect with its historic, cultural and environmental context.

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