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For the love of Kielder

Kielder Forest’s architecture programme has bedded in well, writes James Pallister

It’s almost 14 years since the first shelter was built as part of Kielder Forest’s art and architecture programme. Belvedere, by Softroom, was commissioned by the Northumberland partnership, in doing so shifting the emphasis from art to architecture. With it, a blueprint was laid down for a series of pavilions around the large, man-made reservoir.

This weekend Kielder Partnership curator Peter Sharpe, helped by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, hosted a series of celebratory talks and lectures which explored the legacy of these buildings and what they meant for the practices – many completed at the beginning of their careers.

In a double bill on Saturday was Softroom’s Oliver Salway and sixteen*(makers)’s Bob Sheil, who built Belvedere and 55/02 respectively. Salway gave a compelling talk on the design process and reflected on what it meant to him now, having considered what has happened to his practice since. Sheil held the crowd too, elaborating on 55/02’s fabrication process from a kit of components whose built outcome was not completely clear until it was in the ground, and in doing so questioned preconceived ideas of how much ‘slack’ information modelling techniques should allow.

A Kielder highlight is Charles Barclay Architects’ Observatory, winner of a 2009 RIBA Award, though cruelly denied Stirling Prize shortlisting. Astronomers and public alike have shown what they think however, as the venue has received over 40,000 visitors. Not bad for one of England’s most hard-to-reach areas. On Sunday night Charles Barclay gave a tour of the observatory.

The shelters can be viewed via a 26-mile footpath which circumnavigates the reservoir. They are worth a visit, as is the landscape in its own right: the combination of Europe’s largest man-made lake and the UK’s largest (and most profitable) forest make for an eery, intriguing landscape. But pack your insect repellent. Northumberland may be sparsely populated by people, but prolifically by midges.

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