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Cambridge Sculpture

Cambridge

Although we are timber framers, we can sometimes be tempted outside of our comfort zone when challenged. Artists Ivan and Heather Morison of Studio Morison contacted us to see if we were interested in building a large roundwood sculpture that they had designed and which had been commissioned for a new amenity space near Cambridge.

The Bronze House

Cambridge

Although we are timber framers, we can sometimes be tempted outside of our comfort zone when challenged. Artists Ivan and Heather Morison of Studio Morison contacted us to see if we were interested in building a large roundwood sculpture that they had designed and which had been commissioned for a new amenity space near Cambridge.

How large? What? Where? Why?

Our curiosity got the better of us and we made the mistake of taking a trip to the Morison workshop in nearby Weobley to meet Ivan and Heather to talk things through. We looked at their plasticine scale model, inspected the debarked chestnut logs coiled and stacked expectantly outside, scratched our heads and ended up feeling excited by the whole idea. The bait had been set, and before we knew it, we had shaken hands and agreed to fabricate the “Bronze House” – it even had a name…

How?

This was of course the key question that now started to occupy our minds. Night and day. Thinking about constructing a 9m tall structure out of seriously wonky roundwood ended up being quite stressful but with the help of a responsible structural engineer, we came up with what felt like a suitable theoretical jointing method. Now we just had to put it into practice. The timbers were duly delivered to Castle Ring for fabrication (a mere 25 tons in all) and we were confronted by the enormity of what we had undertaken. In reality however, making a start meant we could stop worrying and start doing. The sculpture is based on 4 tripods with a dozen or so connecting timbers all of which had to be positioned to match the model. This was critical for the final positioning on site in Cambridge.

So we picked the first tripod. We created a flat on the first log with a chainsaw and planer, and laid up the second log so that we could scribe shoulders and a tenon. The mortice and tenon is secured with oak pegs and reinforced with stainless steel rod, washers and nuts. Now things got trickier as we had to find a way to correctly position the foot of the 3rd leg relative to the other 2. Up in the air! All this before we could scribe and cut the joint. As you can see we used the telehandler for lifting, with ropes tied to the correct lengths at the feet to form the base of the pyramid.

It worked!

With the 4 tripods now jointed on the ground, it was time to think about erecting them in the yard so we could continue working on the connecting timbers. We booked a crane, 2 telehandlers and a cherrypicker and prayed for a calm clear day, not always a given at the beginning of November…. We got lucky, and were able to successfully assemble the tripods in the air, taking care to brace the feet with 6″ x 2″ timbers to avoid stressing the joints. The tripods were then lifted independently and repositioned relative to each other. I’ve got no idea what the neighbours thought we might have been up to…..

With the fundamentals of the structure in place, we could now focus on jointing the upper connecting pieces in place. Everything so far had taken place with the security of the earth beneath our feet, but now we had to step even further outside of our comfort zone with scribing and jointing happening 30 ft up in the air. Painstaking and dangerous work for sure, but slowly, piece by piece the sculpture took shape. And eventually, we were done…

…or so we thought.

Now we had to take the whole thing apart BUT devise a way to ensure that we could put it back together again at it’s final resting place in Cambridge. Easier said than done. We mapped a precise millimetre grid of all the post feet, took a gazillion photos, and closed our eyes and offered up a prayer to the chestnut sculpture gods.

They must have been listening because when we put it all back together again in Hobson’s Square, Trumpington, Cambridge, with two cranes and cherry picker, the whole caboodle slotted together just like it was meant to. It sits at the centre of the square referencing the Bronze Age archaeology found on the site. Studio Morison had scorched the timbers with a giant blow torch, coated them in tar, and finally rubbed them down by hand with a wire brush for a charred and burnished look.

We enjoyed making it, living with it, walking underneath and round it. It was all consuming at times and pushed us far beyond our normal physical and technical limits. But we did it.

Project Summary

Brief

  • Public art work
  • Fabrication and installation of a large roundwood structure
  • Home grown chestnut logs
  • Interpretation of artist’s concept design

Timings

  • Fabrication – two months
  • Installation – two days

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[email protected] 01547 560 231
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