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Pimp my sarsen: MK Menhir by Sam Jacob Studio

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Sam Jacob explains the concept and describes the making of his studio’s MK Menhir, a new temporary piece of public art in central Milton Keynes

PROJECT DATA

The MK Menhir, a new piece of public art in Milton Keynes, is based on a 3D scan of one of the megaliths at the Avebury neolithic stone circle in Wiltshire. This data has been used to fabricate a 1:1 replica, finished with an iridescent paint finish and sited on a porte cochère on Milton Keynes’ Midsummer Boulevard.

The piece simultaneously recalls one of the oldest human landscapes of Britain, while its iridescent finish suggests custom car design. This combination of ancient and modern has a close relationship to the history and culture of Milton Keynes’ design, making explicit the deep relationship to myths of the English landscape combined with the rose-tinted British love of Los Angeles that underwrote the original concept for the 1970s New Town. In tribute to the LA/MK connection, the MK Menhir is a symbol of the ancient British landscape as seen through the lens of LA’s own tradition of roadside commercial art.

The new intervention aims to draw on these traditions and ideas in developing a new artwork that is both ancient in its references, and modern in appearance. It acts as a monument to the founding myths of Milton Keynes, while creating a landmark responding to the formal axis and urban design of Midsummer Boulevard, which is aligned with the midsummer solstice. In 2017 Milton Keynes will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The MK Menhir will remain in place for three years.

The standing sarsen stones of Avebury are both natural and man-made. Giant pieces of stone that have been turned vertical to become markers in the landscape. The shape of the stones themselves is incredibly sculptural. Isolating one of the stones, the ‘Barber Stone’, and placing it in a different context – the landscape of Central Milton Keynes – amplifies its sculptural qualities while still reminding us of its original source. The crisp geometry of its porte cochère is in contrast to the irregular shape of the stone. The stone sits on the porte cochère like a sculpture on a plinth, but a plinth that is part of the pedestrian landscape.

During his 1930s excavation of the Avebury stone circle, archaeologist Alexander Keiller uncovered the skeleton of a barber-surgeon, identified by the remains of a purse containing scissors and a probe, buried in a pit underneath the stone. It is thought he died during the stone’s burial, when it fell on top of him, leading it to be dubbed the ‘Barber Stone’. 

The Barber Stone was photographed from every angle with a digital SLR camera. The data from the images was then imported into 3D Photoscan software, which analyses the images and interpolates the angle and position they were taken from. From this data, the software builds up an exact 3D model of the stone.

The model was then sent to the fabricators, and CNC’d out of foam. The replica stone was assembled, coated with glass fibre and, finally, sprayed with purple/blue iridescent paint; a finish normally the preserve of the world of custom car enthusiasts.

The MK Menhir

The MK Menhir

Source: Set works

Project data

Client Milton Keynes Council and MK Gallery
Designer Sam Jacob Studio
Project leader Eddie Blake
Construction cost £12,000
Dimensions 2700 x 2365 x 830mm
Fabrication October 2015
Installation November 2015
Structural engineer Elliott Wood
Main contractor Setworks

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