Ghost 2
Concept and Construction / Earth and Sky (Excerpt)
Brian Carter

...In seeking to look beyond the confines of an individual building and consider the potential of architecture in the service of science, the construction of this strange device brings to mind other built instruments. As the carefully carved and precisely assembled blocks at Stonehenge had provided a unique place for individuals to gather and register their place in the world so, centuries later, the precise instrumentation developed by Jai Singh II created an unlikely global positioning system at Jantar Mantar. Created from stones precisely marked with graded measures, these strikingly abstract structures were shaped by people anxious to understand the place they occupied. The three-dimensional forms that they built established enduring connections between concept and construct, earth and sky.

Located alongside the royal palace on the outskirts of New Delhi in India, the instruments at Jantar Mantar were developed from a series of large-scale mockups. First assembled on smooth flat constructed platforms of stone, the design of the structures was refined in an iterative process that extended over several years before the completion of an extensive group of small buildings in 1727 - an impressive collection that still exists today. The device at Lower Kingsburg was built by a team of people who worked in a similar way. Design and construction ran in parallel, ideas were tested by building on site at full scale, and details were modified and improved throughout the construction. However the work in Nova Scotia was completed in a few weeks - a constraint created in part by the routine of the academic calendar but one which also recalled the intense activity of the first settlers who, arriving at this remote place, had to work quickly and ingeniously with few resources to create shelter within the strict sequence of the seasons.

At Kingsburg, wood replaces the stones of Stonehenge and Jaipur. A readily available material that is easily worked was enriched by long established traditions of building in this region. In Nova Scotia, wood has also been used for many years to make boats - sophisticated instruments that were tested regularly by use and the elements. While both wood and stone can be carved, this recent constructional experiment sought to explore those vernacular traditions alongside the potential of the structural frame and the liberating orders of tectonic construction.

Aware of the remoteness of the place and the challenges faced by the original builders, the students engaged in Ghost 2 also worked with a modest and finite supply of material. Presented with ninety-five pieces of roughly cut two-by-four lumber, these designer-builders planned a platform supported on two specially fabricated timber beams that spanned between nine pairs of circular wooden posts cut from tree trunks and driven into the ground at twelve foot centres. Acknowledging the lack of plentiful, sophisticated fasteners as another constraint that the first builders had to contend with, the team for this project was supplied with just one hundred and fifty pounds of nails. To further underline the value and potential of this simple connector that had once been such a precious commodity but is now ubiquitous, the team focused their work by devising construction systems that used those nails only in shear.

Like the original house, this new instrument was built with few tools, a minimal amount of equipment and by effectively engaging the human body. Consequently, the large structure was made of relatively small pieces that could be easily worked, conveniently handled, simply connected and efficiently assembled by a small group of people.

In addition to being a primitive scientific device and a constructional experiment this new platform was also envisaged as a lookout to survey the site and re-view the land. It offered a series of new vantage points and identified places of significance within the stone walls of the re-discovered basement. A cutout at the northern end of the platform located the central chimney of the ancient house and signaled the hearth - a place with obvious domestic associations but which also plays a civic role that arises out of the gathering together of people and conversations around the fire (2). While that hearth can be seen as an inseparable part of the earthwork, the contrasting tectonic frame of the new wooden deck elevated above the stone walled basement clearly recalled both the construction systems of the original house and the architectural treatises of Gottfried Semper. In addition to restoring a partial floor to the house and focusing upon the hearth, the platform also extended out across the site to define the well with a second cutout so as to connect fire and water. It terminated in a new stair that hovered tenuously above the ground. In this way the platform celebrated the sequence of entry into the house but also underlined that all important civilizing moment when the first settlers moved up off the ground to make a better life...

Copyright September 2007