I’m interested in the relationship between architecture and ground, and how a close connection between the two can instill a stronger sense of place. I chose to visit the follies of St Enda’s Park as an example that might relate to my explorations of how architecture touches the ground.
My walk began at the front of the Patrick Pearse Museum at noon. It was a dry day and unexpectedly bright. We headed to the first of the follies that would lead us on a guided tour of the grounds, exploring the different artefacts scattered around the landscape.
In a literal sense, the buildings are made of oddly-shaped stones dug from the ground around the site. The pieces were originally put together in the archaic fashion of rubble wall construction, with the intention of replicating the appearance of traditional Celtic monuments. Many of the follies not only utilised natural stone excavated from the site, but were also directly on top of large boulders already embedded in the ground.
This style of construction creates a meaningful link between the architectural language and the ground. The follies feel natural, as if they had formed from the terrain over many centuries. This type of relationship makes it difficult to separate what is building and what is ground. It creates the impossible challenge of imagining this landscape without the follies, a theme referred to by Peter Zumthor: ‘These buildings appear to be anchored firmly in the ground. They make the impression of being a self-evident part of their surroundings and seem to be saying “I am as you see me and I belong here”.'
Exploring the site, taking in the vistas, trying to understand the architecture and the feeling of being part of a natural landscape. All of these fragments blended together to create a surreal atmosphere. It felt as though I was nowhere near the modern world. It was a walled garden sealed off from the change of time.
But then I heard the cars and smelt the exhaust fumes. The traffic lights pinged distantly. Reminders of the modern world began to leak into the grounds of the park and I remembered where I was.
As we progressed through the grounds, the follies became more architectural; transforming from objects in the landscape towards an architecture as landscape. The path lead through a series of arches and niches to the south-east corner of the site, Emmet’s Fort. This building adopts the form of a condensed star-shaped, five-pointed military fort. The fort expressed more of a separation between the man-made and natural ground. It became evident that although the materiality of the structure was undoubtedly of the place, the way in which it was constructed was more refined than that of the cave and niches. The individual characteristics of the man-made and natural landscapes co-existing, rather than merging together, became more apparent.
My perception of the architecture rested in the language expressed in its construction. There was a clear understanding of context. The design’s approach towards the natural ground was evident in the way that relationships had been considered. These structures also raised a question: What is the correct relationship between architecture and topography?
Having reached the end of the suggested route, I spent another hour or so retracing my steps, exploring the follies in solitude. I took my time observing the details of the structures more closely. Follies are an interesting typology – not quite built for a specific purpose, yet finding a sense of usefulness long past their initial construction. It is this kind of architecture, one that shares deep roots with its context, that finds a real sense of belonging within both cultural and physical landscapes.
1. P. Zumthor, Thinking Architecture, Basel, Birkhäuser, 1998, p. 17-18.