Architecture for People and Plants: The Spiralfields

In March this year, building work began on the new Spiralfields community garden on a plot of land recently handed back to the farm by Network Rail. The permaculture project, designed by Roundfield landscape architects, incorporates a roundwood sheltered walkway and seating area overlooking the city skyline, a large trough for harvesting rainwater from the shelter’s roof, raised vegetable beds, a forest garden with fruit trees and shade plants, nitrogen-rich hedgerows to be used as mulch, and a totem sculpture fixed in a spiral plinth. The low-carbon build is being carried out by Fletcher Worley and his horticultural design and build team at Chauncey Gardens, alongside a team of volunteers from the local community co-ordinated by Richard Walker at the farm. I have been documenting the transformation process since the delivery of the UK-grown cedar logs in April. The project is due to be finished in the Autumn.

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1. Delivery of UK-grown cedar trunks.
2. 15 tonnes of green waste compost from the EcoPark Compost Centre in North London.
3. The Osmani Men’s Gardening Group debarking the cedar logs.
4. Digging through layers of old buildings to create holes for the trunks.
5. The decking is made with reused scaffold planks.
6. A plum line to check the logs are straight.
7. The logs are hoisted up using a winch and pulley system.
8. A jig made with scrap wood and old paving stones from the garden.
9. Bean poles at the back of the garden.

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Concept sketch by Roundfield, looking south east from seating area.

A short video showing Fletch and his team’s carbon-free method for hoisting up the weighty logs: 

ArchitectsArchitecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudolfsky, originally published by MOMA New York (1954) to accompany the exhibition of the same name. A wonderful book displaying different examples of vernacular architecture, including dwellings built inside living trees and the labyrinthine entrances to the Inari Shrine in Kyoto made from unsawed trunks.

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And here is a bean pole structure I proudly built (middle) tied with strips of flax leaf grown on the farm. Thanks to Richard, I recently discovered that there is a type of friendly bacteria in soil that has a serotonin producing effect on the brain. So the ecotherapy results of gardening are that direct.

On a similar note, I am excited to visit the new rooftop woodland garden at the Southbank Centre this summer. The project is an extension of the nearby Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden. Created as a partnership between the Southbank Centre and the Eden Project, both gardens have been built and maintained by staff and volunteers from the recovery and wellbeing Grounded Ecotherapy gardening team from Providence Row Housing Association.

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Goat Milking: from animal to object

SamanthaSweeting_milkingBramble  Last Tuesday, I milked Bramble the goat. She is still breastfeeding Hazel, her 7 week old kid, but as she is a rare breed Golden Guernsey raised for high milk yield, she produces a surplus. This excess milk needs to be drained daily for her comfort. It is a curious activity.

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Unpasteurised goat milk has a host of health giving properties. For a start, it’s composition is relatively close to human milk. This in particular interests me.

800px-Romulus-RemusSome years ago, I milked a sheep, spraying the frothy liquid straight into my mouth like a warm milkshake. And now, drinking Bramble’s milk, I am reminded of that moment. I hear the sound of the mechanical milk pump beating out its pulse. But I am older and the  hot milk hits me with a pang of emotion; comforting and claustrophobic. Joyful and melancholic. Its richness overwhelms me.

The bulk of my research over the past 7 years has been concerned with inter-species dialogues and nurture; there is a lot I can write about milk. For the moment, however, I want to direct my focus to the milk stand.

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Today, I started researching goat milking stands and found a world of architectural oddities.

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Friedrich Nagler in  World of Interiors April 2013 Photographs by Jan BaldwinThey make me think of Friedrich Nagler‘s little animal sculptures, made with reclaimed bits of metal, nuts, bolts, old taps, and so on.

I imagine a Jan Svankmajer stop-motion animation, where the milking stands come to life, running around the stable, eating hay and bleating.

Taken aside and photographed as objects of interest, they take on a gravitas unbelied by their banal utilitarian design. The inanimate object replaces the animal.

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1. Taken in the playground at ZSL London Zoo.
2. My childhood miniature rocking horse.