Now I’m all settled, I need to get back to doing some work.
At the start of every project there’s usually a long period of research and development where I immerse myself in finding out about things and getting really lost in lots of new stuff. At the moment I’m working on a number of future projects at various stages in their development.
It’s quite possible that one or more of these projects never makes it off the page and becomes a final piece. It happens. Quite a lot sometimes. Sometimes the ideas carry on and inspire another piece. Sometimes projects just take a really long time to happen.
This piece for a hi-end luggage brand never paid off:
Although this piece proposed for Brockholes Nature Reserve near Preston didn’t happen (huge shame), it did lead to a similar piece in nearby Lytham:
and this piece for the Forest of Bowland is far more complicated than expected and is still a few years away from happening:
Recently I’ve been doing some research at the Lancashire County Archives for a couple of projects. It’s an amazing place. It’s not a library nor is it a museum, but contains millions of documents relating to just about everything that’s ever been written down in or about Lancashire. From elaborate illuminated manuscripts on vellum to folders of stapled typewritten council memos.
The building itself is a very considered bit of 70’s local authority brutalism.
There are boxes of files there which chart the history of the designing and building this purpose-built archive building – memos about materials, sketches of the custom furniture, salaries and running costs.
In the centre of the main building is a square courtyard. The architects proposed a sculpture and water feature in the middle, which never came to anything, but there’s a whole presentation document about it.
It’s not a great piece of art proposed, and the design of the presentation isn’t ground breaking either, but what struck me was the thought and care that went into proposing the project.
The master of the proposal presentation though was Humphry Repton. A self-taught landscape designer he sought to develop the ideas of Capability Brown and a had a clear vision of how the parks around the great houses could be greater experiences and encapsulate the new ideas of the beautiful view. He also developed a very unique business model. He would visit the great houses and spend a few days sketching the various views, looking to see how changes to the parks and gardens would affect the overall impression and experience of the house. He would then present a bound book of his ideas to the owners as a pitch for work. The books would be around 20 or so pages long with beautifully written descriptions of the house and land. The highlight of the books were the fold-out pen and ink drawings with flaps and pop-ups showing before and after visuals.
The pitches were mostly unsolicited – he relied on some of the ideas to be taken up in order to make a living. For him the presentation of the ideas was key to that. As bound objects, Repton’s ‘Red Books’ have mostly survived – being absorbed into the estate libraries. Surprisingly few of his ideas were actually fully realised. If he was lucky then maybe one or two ideas at each site would take shape – but for Repton that law of averages was all part of the plan.
The Lancashire Archives have an original Red Book for Lathom House. As a public archive anyone can request most items. However, the Repton Red Book as a one-off hand written and illustrated book is a bit fragile for repeated handling, so the conservation department made an amazing facsimile for anyone to explore. It has the same binding, paperweight and everything so you get to experience Repton’s charm-offensive in all its glory.
I don’t think any of Repton’s ideas for Lathom House ever came to fruition, but as a work of art – of ideas as well as visuals – it’s just as valid.
This got me thinking of the value of proposals. They are ideas in the raw state. The great vision. At the idea stage they’re often uncompromised by logistics or money or technology. There are far more things that never happened than have. In that light the archives hold a fascinating document of what if..
Some are visually things of beauty –
This is a proposal for decoration of the hallway in Lytham Hall (never happened). I love the way it’s presented as the 3D space folded flat.
Less visually arresting is this proposed railway through the Forest of Bowland. Built partly for local transport for people and agriculture, the financial sustainability case was built on tourist use – years before the creation of National Parks but they still anticipated summer tourism passengers of over 30,000 every year. Had this been built it is possible the Forest of Bowland would have been as busy as the Peak District and with a developed tourism industry as a result would have strengthened its case for National Park status.
There are thousands of architectural drawings in the archive – from railway cottages and Cooperative Society buildings to canals and service stations. But by far the most impressive is that for the Morcambe Tower.
In the early 1890’s there was a bit of a tower fever. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower opened in 1888, entrepreneurs around the country saw building iconic landmark towers as the key to building tourism with the new concept of disposable income. In 1890 both Blackpool and Morcambe revealed their plans for seaside towers. Blackpool’s at 158 metres
unashamedly ripped off was directly inspired by the Eiffel Tower. Morcambe’s was far more ambitious…
At the base was an intricately decorated Moorish-designed Bazaar featuring shops, restaurants and grand theatre. Above that sat a second auditorium for a circus. Rising above all this was a tower more inspired by the Tower of Babel than anything else. A spiral roadway wound itself around the spire with an illuminated tramway carrying people to the viewing lantern on the top.
Just stop for a moment. That’s like a railway running around the outside to the top of Blackpool Tower…
These drawings from the architects – by W.H & A Sugden of Keighley, Yorkshire, are incredible in their level of detail. These are not a decorative proposal – they’re working drawings to actually build this thing. There’s even a detailed drawing of one of the hinges on one of the ground floor bars.
The depth of detailing is mind-blowing. Bearing in mind that at the time this would have been the tallest building ever built – that Tower of Babel inspiration is not quite so kitsch.
Sadly, like so many great ideas, it didn’t really go to plan. The money didn’t materialise and the buildings were scaled back. The Tower never got beyond its steel work sub-structure.
The tower was dismantled for the 1st World War effort. No doubt the ironwork melted down and turned into guns and shells. From pleasure to pain in one easy line. The buildings were finally demolished in the early ’60’s.
Compromise is the enemy of inspiration and some ideas should never have got beyond the proposal stage – not because they were bad, but precisely because they were perfect as they were. The act of realising them inevitably opens up the risk of things going wrong, or worse – tweaked for budgetary constraints.
Of course I always set out with the ambition to realise every one of my proposals, but realising that the proposal presentation may be as far as any idea gets I’m enjoying working on all the details for these pieces.
The art of ideas.