Days Seven and Eight of the Lacey Green Visiting School have been written up by Wajiha Afsar, a graduate of the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff, who’s currently on her Year Out:

“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquility, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality”.
– Gerald Durrell, ‘My family and Other Animals’

As a person who hasn’t stepped into the countryside very often, life at the farm has been much like that. Each day feels unreal and much like a child learning things for the first time in its growth spurt, I feel everyday brings about an essence of new knowledge and experience. Time flows away in secrecy and before one realises, the sun starts to set. Awareness of hours slipping by is only brought about when one thinks of meal times which in honesty, are more like feasts of divine food. This has left Zina and I in a serious pact to avoid the endless cakes around before we have trouble fitting back into our clothes. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out so well when the music teacher’s father brought us scrumptious cakes and then Guan’s partner Paul arrived bringing with him an entire shop’s worth of groceries. It was incredible and we are ever so thankful they did that for us, even if it meant we conveniently ignored any pact made and tucked in unashamedly into those fabulous treats.

Once fully fuelled (and feeling slightly sick) we began our day cleaning up the clay tiling area in the workshop, giving it a general tidy and carrying on with the rest of the cutting and sanding of lattice pieces. It was not until after lunch that we got all the pieces done to move onto site. Conveniently, Clem had hooked a cart with a screwdriver (ingenious) to a lawn mower to transport the pieces across, whilst the rest of us followed behind. At site, we separated into girls and boys. The girls shovelled the dirt back in the hole that was dug for the soil testing. All we were meant to do was refill a hole. Sounds easy right? It wasn’t! All huffing and puffing we gathered up the strength to keep going. Once in a rhythm and working up a sweat, we felt the need to accomplish this task without any help. An hour or so later the hole was filled, the poor worms were unknowingly smushed and there stood 5 proud ladies. Simultaneously the boys were arranging the wood under the shed and labelling it. I may be biased but if this was a competition of the sexes, we definitely won. Back in the house we had a wonderful dinner made by the RCA tutors Clara and Satoshi, who were visiting for the day. Once again, as in previous blogs, one must pause and comment on the wonderful cooking and variety of dishes at this farm. The food was delicious.

The next day I would like to title ‘The adventures of the Visiting School students in wonderland’. I admit, it’s not as catchy as the original but that was definitely the vibe of the day. Guilio called it, ‘the best day of his life’. It began with fabulous weather and a little bit of haste as we were running late. The sun seemed shy, occasionally hiding its face behind the clouds but the day was definitely bright and dry. We went for a walk to the nearby Lacey Green windmill where Michael Hardy  who kindly explained everything in detail about its history. Dubbed a ‘smock mill’ on the design of a smock farming dress, we found out its machine was running since the 1650’s and is thought to be the oldest one in England.

We cautiously climbed up the ladders inside the mill and went through all 3 stories. I realised that much like the windmill’s entire mechanism was so intertwined and dependant on each other to work well, so was our visiting school and other collaborative efforts. We all also truly enjoyed the intricacy of the construction and detail of the mill and were in awe of the fact that the machinery was that old. A long walk later, past beautiful, scenic views and some very large muddy bits, we arrived at the pub Clem had arranged for us to eat in. Despite the food taking a little longer than we anticipated, it was good. Beer battered cod and chips were definitely the popular dish amongst us. Well fed and ready to move on, we departed to walk towards Pigotts, which was once the home of Eric Gill. I mention his name, without any adjective attached to it, because before I reached there, I knew nothing of him. He was just ‘Eric Gill’.

Once inside, speaking to the current owner Nick Wheeler-Robinson, who very kindly showed us around, we all realised just how interesting Pigotts is. Gill was a sculptor and typographer, perhaps best know for designing the Gill Sans type and for his unconventional personal life. Although some eyebrows were raised about his confused relationships with his sisters, daughters and dogs(!), we swiftly moved past that and took in the breath-taking oddities that lay before us. We were completely immersed in the charm of this house. Everything was oozing with character. From the naturally shaped wooden logs within the trusses, holding the roof up, to the glass tiles creating vivid shadows within. It was incredible. As we were directed from one room to the next, the entire space seemed to unravel into a new space that was nothing like its predecessor. It created ‘oohs’ and ‘aah’s between the group.

The fact that it was a music venue made it even more fitting to our project. As we are designing a music pavilion at the visiting school we really enjoyed the detailed description he was giving and the ethos of the area. He was adamant it remained a place for “amateurs” where anyone could play whatever “made them happy”. This was wonderful to hear and I was quite amazed at how they kept this vibe throughout. The nonagon house was something special and the views all around in the gleaming sunlight, were breath-taking. Thinking about it now and whilst being in it, I would have to say, it was a strange place. A tiny world of its own, brimming with creativity of minds all collaborating to create an energetic enjoyable experience. The friendly cats, the chicken, the old sofas as seats for the music hall were all part of the same story. A place to be happy and joyful.

Once we returned to Lacey Green, we had a wonderful lecture from Ivar and Clem about WORKSHOP architecture’s previous projects. It was great to see the way they worked with the local communities in Philippines and India to learn their culture and ways and use the local knowledge to design the projects. The best part was, they made very clear that things didn’t always go smoothly, which made it seem a lot more realistic and enjoyable. After all, nobody likes a story without some twists in the plot. All in all, we wrapped up our day with Under the Skin. It received mixed reviews from the group but everyone was happy to have a nice end to a truly fantastic day. A big thank you to Clem for arranging this!

I would also like to mention, on our return having the electricity/heating back and shower drain cleaned was a big relief. Thank you to the wonderful Nigel for his efforts!