BLOG Linda Rhinehart

NWR Issue 113

Wales Festival of Architecture Panel

On Tuesday 9 May, I attended a panel for the festival of Architecture in Wales at 6 pm at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. The event was introduced by the new head of the Welsh Books Council, Helgard Krause, who highlighted the alliance between the architectural society and the Council and introduced the four speakers, who each spoke about their favourite building in Wales.

The first, Mark Baker, a historian, talked about Gwrych Castle in Abergele, near where he had grown up. It was this building that first inspired him to embark on becoming a historian and author. The castle was first designed in the early nineteenth century by Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh (1788–1861), who was himself impressed by the medieval castles of Europe he had seen on his travels. Gwrych was reduced in size after 1816, but still contained overall 120 rooms and eighteen towers. It was usually covered in greenery, adding to its appeal as a ‘beautiful building’ of Wales. It was renovated at the behest of the Countess Winifred Cochrane, but shortly thereafter fell into disrepair.

Next up was David Thomas, an architect and writer, who talked about Plas Menai, designed by the architect Bill Davis on the banks of the Menai Straits. He noted its similarities to the buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, such as ‘Falling Water’, and argued that it is a good example of ‘history impacting the present’ in its use of large pieces of stone (such as those found at Stonehenge) and Celtic metalwork, with its intricate patterns. He particularly noted the horizontal designs and large windows of the Menai building, arguing that these were particularly ‘Welsh’ in terms of style. He noted also that the very dark stones used in many local buildings were not as frequently used as in the past.

The third person to speak was Richard Suggett, author of multiple books on architecture, who spoke about Llanerchaeron House near Aberaeron, designed by the famous architect John Nash in 1783. This building was important to the development of picturesque architecture, and was bequeathed to the National Trust. It has been painted several different colours over the course of its existence. Suggett spoke especially about the discovery of Nash’s signature within the house itself, proving that he was in fact the architect. In many ways this talk was more about the architect than the building itself. Nash was described as a very persuasive personality who spent much of his time in Carmarthen. After he went bankrupt in 1784, he began designing more original houses, starting with Llanerchaeron.

The final speaker was Gillian Clarke, the former National Poet of Wales, who described the Senedd parliamentary building (designed by Richard Rogers) in Cardiff as her favourite. Her speech incorporated some of her own poems. She described herself as being especially drawn to architectural motifs which suggest the power of nature, such as the forest and the sea. In a section which turned out to be my favourite part of the whole event, Clarke hypothesised that forest-like designs are so commonly used because our ancestors used to live in the forest and were accustomed to the sound and feel of this space. She also pondered the three main purposes of architecture according to Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, these being ‘commodity’, ‘firmness’ and ‘delight’, and how these functions could be applied to the Senedd.

A short audience Q and A following the panel led to a debate about the importance of builders and architects respectively, the effects of globalisation on styles, and architecture and the surrounding environment.

Linda Rhinehart is a PhD candidate in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

This event took place on 9 May at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. It is part of the Wales Festival of Architecture which runs until 31 May and includes talks, films and exhibitions exploring the positive impact that good architecture has on people’s everyday lives and experience. The main festival exhibition of James Morris’ photography was reviewed for us by Ellen Bell. Other highlights include an update on an international competition to design a ‘pop-up’ glamping-style ‘hotel’ using Welsh materials for three temporary sites this summer.

Photo courtesy of the Wales Festival of Architecture.


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