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Silvas Capitalis, Needs Hill, Kielder by SIMPARCH

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SIMPARCH create a shelter shaped as a giant wooden head in Kielder Water & Forest Park

American design group SIMPARCH chose a site in a small coppice of trees overlooking Kielder Water. Its shelter - a giant wooden head emerging from the ground - was inspired by the ‘watchers’ of Celtic folklore, spirits who watch over the land. Its figurative nature means it has a comic element that might have been a little too much in open countryside, but as it is, tucked behind a screen of trees, it has a mystery that makes you want to get closer.

The structure is made from layered timber blocks, individually machine-cut and then sanded for a smooth surface. Visitors enter through the ‘mouth’ of the head and can climb some stairs to look out of its eyes - each is big enough to stick your head through. The initial plan was to also carve out ear holes so that visitors could ‘listen’ through the watcher, but time constraints scuppered this. Kielder’s art and architecture programme director, Peter Sharpe, told me that gaining planning for this project was causing him sleepless nights. In the end, the only contentious issue was that it might scare children, but a few visits to local schools with visualisations proved otherwise.

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