Bricks • Mortar • Imagination • Words

The Texts - Rosa Ainley

Touching Wood

Writing about architecture mixes fact, inspiration and document, what exists, what's possible, and it's been this way since Andrea Palladio published his I Quattro Libri dell-Architetture in 1570. A creative work based in the actual, the printed record can have an existence independent of its object. Suggesting what it might become extends the range of the architectural just as developments in representational methods and technologies of reproduction allow different content, and influence the object itself. It's even been suggested that for some, the real construction site is on the page. Writing where a computer is an essential element in its consumption, not just in its production, is likewise a move into new territory. Virtual texts are insubstantial by their nature but allow new forms and so new contents.

A resident invites me in to see her bedroom. It's a large room, light and airy, cosy enough. What catches my eye is a photograph of her, an ordinary pretty little girl. I have to resist the impulse to pick it up. I wonder how she got here from there, what her story is, but I can't ask. I wonder why I'm so sure it's her.

To write the building I have to tell you some facts. These are the bones of the process:

Planning consent refused due to local objections and roof height. Approval granted 1999. Following 'relatively successful' funding appeal, went on site February 2002. Completion December 2002, to schedule and budget.

Total construction cost, ex VAT: 419,795.86

Total floor space: 257 square metres (168 square metres in the main apse)

Maximum capacity: 200 people

Seating capacity: 100 people

'She's becoming very friendly with Orchard House so she can write about it.'

The staff think I'm an architect; the residents go for social worker. 'Where are you from?' they ask, over and over, because I'm not from there.

Orchard House, which opened officially on 28 March 2003, is a building for orchestra, gym, bell ringing, movement (eurythmy), dance, storytelling, performances and festivals in the grounds of Nutley Hall (1882), on the hill of Nutley village. A Rudolf Steiner residential home, founded on anthroposophical principles, Nutley Hall has grown in numbers and buildings until now it consists of five households. Orchard House hunkers down, nestles into a dip that turns out to be a response to planning department objections, so all you can see from the windows on one side is the greenness of the view across Sussex. It hums with calm.

Even with my disbelief suspended and warm glow in place I can never quite reach it touch it taste it. Always pursuing seeking edging towards the part I can't get to.

Somewhere, a silence takes shape in the form of words. You can look and listen but there's only sound and vision to hold on to. The possibility exists to be less static, to make noise, to work with the sound of words and the look of them as much as their meaning. The nature of the building invites a threading together of pieces -

texts within texts

spaces within spaces

circles within pentagons

houses within halls

- but there are other routes and hypernotes here for the taking, as long as you make them. The solidity is untouchable.

I took a walk down Cackle Street, where the trees meet overhead. I almost drowned in green, up to my neck in hedges. There are adders in the forest and llamas up the road, the roses are lovely but the bakery was closed.

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