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Picturesque Reproduction

Part 2 Project 2009
Tom Brigden
Cardiff University | UK
The themes permeating this thesis develop further upon the dissertation. Romanticism and nostalgia are powerful tools in literature, but they are also extremely potent in the visual arts. Inspired by an early twentieth century London Underground poster, I examine the ways in which images are constructed, relating them back to the contrived viewpoints of the eighteenth century picturesque movement.

Looking for physical examples of this, I analyse Kent’s gardens at Rousham and Clough William Ellis’ romantic Italianate village of Portmeirion. As an analytical tool, I use a Claude glass, an eighteenth century optical device, allowing me to illustrate the contrast between the ‘perfect’ view and the imperfection of reality. As a result of this exploration, the scheme’s programme developed into a factory for the Ellis’ nostalgic Portmeirion pottery.

On discovering that this is produced in Stoke-on-Trent, the project aims to insert a piece of the picturesque theatricality of Portmeirion, into Stoke’s sublime landscape of industrial ruins. Pevsner called the city an “urban tragedy” as a result of its fragmented nature. This scheme attempts to begin to stitch the city together with tourist routes linking landmarks and viewpoints. In this particular project, the ‘promenade architecturale’ through the factory becomes a component of a wider route across Burslem.

The contrast between the refined and reality is evident throughout the scheme; in plan, the tourist route becomes a picturesque landscape of objects, frames and viewpoints, contrasting with the orthogonal and conventional layout of the factory buildings; again this is evident in the sections and even in the materiality of the building where, glancing away from a staged viewpoint, the visitor is confronted with views of plant rooms, staff areas and even the revealed studwork of internal partitions. The scheme therefore, provides for the tourist a sequential series of views (or ‘Kodak moments’) through the factory, in the manner of Gordon Cullen’s serial vision. More importantly however, these views are immediately contrasted with glimpses through areas which tourists are not traditionally shown. In this way, the tourist route is a series of surprises and revelations in the manner of Clough William Ellis’ “Operatic Architecture”.

Tom Brigden

Tom Brigden began his design thesis niggled by romantic images of suburbia – the sort depicting immaculate lawns, white picket fences and roses round the door. He related these to the eighteenth century Claude glass. Reflections in this oval mirror were copied by landscape painters in order to idealise a view, making an image of an image doubly removed from its subject. Tom likened this to contemporary suburbia, which quotes loosely from idealised images of the English arts-and-crafts, itself a copy of some imagined, idealised vernacular, multiply reflected and reproduced.

Discovering that (the romanticised) Portmeirion pottery is made in Stoke-on-Trent, he decided to export the picturesque spirit of that Welsh fantasy village to the Potteries, proposing to help regenerate the troubled village of Burslem – one of Stoke’s five towns – for the community and to promote tourism. Viewing Burslem’s centre and its suburbs through his picturesque lens, Tom composed a route around surviving elements of historic fabric, inserting a new Portmeirion pottery and visitor attraction into the town. The new urban route leads to a visitor route laced through the portal frame sheds of a new working pottery. The geometry of this interior plasterboard Portmeirion is contrived around views and perspective distortions, setting romanticised images of romantic pottery against framed glimpses of real suburbia.

A powerful critique of romanticism, Tom’s project is also serious in its social intent. The result is an elegantly and cleverly composed architectural proposal.

Adam Sharr
Tom's Design Tutor, MArch 2 Year Chair and Senior Lecturer, Welsh School of Architecture

Dr Adam Sharr
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