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Prima Belladonna - The House of Enchantment

Part 2 Project 2009
Marina Illum
Oxford Brookes University, UK
This project is a documentation of an architect’s journey on her discovery of an enchanting sound.
She observes and imagines the source from the distance,
She wonders and records the tower as she became closer,
She studied and reproduced it to represent the enchantment of the Prima Belladonna.

The Prima belladonna tower is a place where two unlikely characters come together to recreate the sound of a myth. William is a young botanist, who lives in door 75 Ridley Road and Cathy is a retired opera singer who lives in 62 Colvestone Road, and they share a back garden. On rainy days both William and Cathy come together to the tower, located in the centre of the garden, to recreate the sound that William’s great grandfather had heard 128 years ago.

The project begins with Anna (The Architect) walking down Riley Road market one rainy afternoon, hearing a strange sound. Upon her discovery of the Prima belladonna tower, the architect begins to unravel its history, the live of its characters, and its purpose. Being an architect, she begins to indulge her imagination of what the spaces were like in the Prima Belladonna tower. She begins to observe and theorize its functions and understand its physical attributes. Eventually she becomes acquainted with its inhabitants, allowing her to physically explore the tower, documenting its enchantment through sketching, drawing and reproducing its structure. The story reveals to us the enchantment of the architect’s experience.

Marina Illum

J.G. Ballard’s first story Prima Belladonna is adapted and located in the gardens between Victorian terrace houses that back onto each other, just off Ridley Road, Dalston. This House of Enchantment is the creation of the Opera Singer, Cathy, and the Gardener, William, of the Belladonna itself.

The programme is an imaginative weaving of their narratives. The resulting tower is a sophisticated technological resolution of the construction of a pipe organ that is activated and is played only when it rains. Based on an 18th Century German Baroque church organ, the wooden pipes, are filled with air from translucent nylon air bags that are operated by a system of counterweighted levers, pressed into service by rain caught in semi translucent nylon water collecting trumpets that cantilever off the main structure on long steel rods.

The plywood tower is partially enclosed by top hung pivoting windows that control not only incoming wind, light, and air, but act as volume controls for the sound coming out of the organ pipes.

Within the plywood structure are interleaved the Gardener’s plant house, drawing room in which to dry and draw specimens, and gardening tool cupboards, and the bathroom for the Opera Singer to harmonise, in her bathtub under the water chandelier, to the sounds created by the organ.

Prof Andrew Holmes
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