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The Language of Stone: A Geology Study Centre near Siccar Point

Part 1 Project 2011
Ben Williams
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh | UK
"The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time." The mathematician John Playfair uttered these words when shown the eroded fissure at Siccar Point on the coast of Berwickshire by the geologist James Hutton. Hutton’s theory of deep time and evolution of the Earth was proved by studying this geological phenomenon. The juxtaposed rock strata of the greywacke stone and the red sandstone was clear to see - different rock typologies that formed at different times lying on top of each other. The once horizontal graywake strata had become vertical over time.

In a world where nothing seems permanent, where buildings are rapidly constructed and then torn down, where society is becoming increasingly nomadic, along with the constant ritual of the births and deaths, we need to be reminded of the geological might and vast time scale of the Earth, and the slow, powerful process of erosion and renewal it is constantly undergoing.

In the nearby village Cockburnspath, a geology centre is to be constructed to celebrate the importance of Siccar Point and Hutton’s discoveries, as well as creating a portal for the hiking trail, the Southern Upland Way. Surrounding the building a new public space will be created to enrich the local area.

Looking to embody the experiential elements of Siccar Point, the building is conceived as a solid, monolithic element that has been split by a fissure into different sections which respond to the programmatic requirements.

The ephemeral quality of organic life is contrasted with the vast lifespan of the Earth. These qualities are introduced through programmatic weathering and by utilising the seasonal change of native vegetation. The architectural form endeavours to maximise the sensual qualities of rain and sunlight, and the careful manipulation of light emphasises the passage of time. Through the reinterpretation of traditional stone Scottish archetypes, the building metaphorically suggests the slow metamorphosis of the Earth. The materials used evoke Siccar Point. The monolithic concrete is suggestive of the vertical greywacke strata, while the tectonic blocks of red sandstone allude to the layers of red sandstone that Hutton studied.

Ben Williams


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