by Sunena V MajuSep 17, 2022
Irrevocably tied to the architectural heritage and by extension, the global identity of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brittany, Neolithic stone circles, often placed in earthwork banks encircling ditches known as "henges", have astounded many for decades, by virtue of their ritualistic connotations which are still yet to be comprehended in their entirety. Having been constantly referenced in popular culture and media over the years, there is perhaps none more famous among them than Stonehenge at Salisbury Plains in the southwest of England. Its towering appearance and aura of mystery are now emblematic when considering these kinds of Neolithic constructions. To celebrate this iconic cultural symbol at London Design Festival 2022, Stanton Williams Architects, Webb Yates Engineers, and LSI Stone have partnered to deliver a contemporary design interpretation of this archaic type of monument, made of Jurassic-era limestone slabs that is fittingly titled Henge. Situated at Wren Landing in London’s Canary Wharf neighbourhood, the pavilion-like structure is part of the roster of Festival Commissions for the design festival's 20th edition. It will be open to the public over the event’s duration from September 17-25 and continue to remain at its site until October 20.
Embracing a sense of tactility, pivotal to the experience of visiting henges, the structure has been devised as a participatory installation, one that is intended to foster interaction within the local community. The concise circular layout creates a point of focus on the waterfront, and will serve as a space for contemplation as well as a venue for performances, poetry readings, and music throughout the course of the festival. Inviting spontaneity and creative exchange, the project’s role within its urban milieu somewhat echoes the hypothesised function of its ancestors, albeit on a smaller scale. At night, a lighting design array will subtly illuminate the installation to impart an otherworldly quality to its appearance, reflecting the hallowed atmosphere often linked to traditional henges.
While its larger prehistoric counterparts may have been feats of structural engineering and construction in their own right - particularly when considering the technology available during their time - Henge is in a way, the culmination of a legacy that stretches back over millennia. Echoing the circular layout of its predecessors, barring the earthwork and ditch, the public installation is composed of slim limestone and marble slabs arranged around a platform at the centre, cut and dressed to provoke comparisons to henges of yore. Said to date back nearly 150 million years to the time of the Jurassic Period, the stone adds a temporal dimension to the pavilion's design, referencing the aged nature of the stones that currently constitute Neolithic henges. Rough-cut edges contrast the polished surfaces of the slabs, accentuating the contrast between old and new, raw and finished, or complete and incomplete.
On the subject of structural design, the slabs have all been elevated atop a ring-shaped deck, and linked at the top through angled joinery. Although the structure might seem overly simple at first glance, this misleading impression veils the true intricacy and detailing that has gone into making Henge a reality. The minimal use of ornamentation is pivotal to creating this image, which allows the material qualities and proportions of the limestone slabs to take centre stage, as in the case of its Neolithic predecessors.
Considering how all these parallels have been chiselled into every facet of the design, Henge's presence among the glittering lineup for this year’s iteration of the London Design Festival, is a catalyst for visitors to ponder how far humanity has come as a civilisation since times that precede recorded history. Whereas the incredible effort and thought that went into the design and construction of henges in their original form are feats to admire of their own accord, the fact that such structures can now be conceptualised, fabricated, and assembled with even greater precision at a far wider range of scales is testament to human ingenuity, and its infinite capacity to take cues from the past and transform them into tangible realities - which feel completely at home within a contemporary setting.
A fitting addition to the plethora of design events and initiatives enlivening the United Kingdom’s capital for the festival this year, Henge is not purely a surface level interpretation of its archetype, despite giving off a deceptive appearance of simplicity. Rather, this design intervention truly strives to recontextualise this kind of structure on every level, bringing prehistoric ingenuity to the modern age.
Click here to know everything about London Design Festival 2022. Celebrating its 20th year, the festival takes over the city of London with installations, exhibitions, and talks from major design districts such as Brompton, Shoreditch Design Triangle, Greenwich Peninsula, Design London, Clerkenwell Design Trail, Park Royal, Mayfair, Bankside, King's Cross, William Morris Line, and Islington.