River Ruins

Today I take the first steps toward what I hope will be a ruinous end. No, I’m not suicidal. The statement is just a set-up for discussing a project I’ve begun. A customer in Southwestern New Hampshire has asked me to explore the spacial possibilities of an old mill site on their property. Situated on the bedrock bank of a river, the ruin of a stone foundation is all that’s left of what must have, at one time, been a thriving enterprise. The water powered saw mill and wood, pill box manufactory would have been a model of industry in the early 18th century. The machinery is gone, the water wheel and timber frame rotted away. Mature trees grow around and within the dry stone foundation. The site belongs to nature, and to a family’s summertime pleasures. The waterfalls and deep pools are ideal for swimming. And while the old ruin makes a beautiful backdrop to the idyllic scene, it could become more a part of life on the property with some playful and practical interventions.

At our initial meeting last week I listened to the customer talk about the ways they currently use the space, and their wishes and dreams for its further integration into their lives. In making a 3-D sketch in clay I’ve tried to imagine how the existing configuration of trees, stonework, grade elevations and orientations could be subtracted from, added to, and augmented to make a more lively physical environment. A scale model allows the viewer’s imagination to join my own in roaming around a real space. The fact that it’s a small, contained area, compared to the actual site, makes it easy to navigate. Changes in plan can be made as simply as pressing a finger into the clay.

It’s pouring down rain this morning. We will stay in the house to discuss the project, the model in front of us on the kitchen table. The ruin and the river are across the lawn, down through the woods, out of site. At this stage in the process it helps to have some distance from reality. Sitting around the kitchen table we can enjoy the luxury of freedom of possibilities.

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5 Responses to River Ruins

  1. Dan Snow June 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    It’s going to be a 3-ring dry-stone circus at the Vermont Stone Workshop; lot’s of fun things to participate in. See you there!

  2. Lewis Wadsworth June 22, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    Thanks for the info and tip about the vertical scale (I’ll have to try that out next time) and also for the intro to Michael Singer’s website. (By the way, I will be attending the JMMDS Vermont Stone Workshop in July…looking forward to it!)

    Best regards.

  3. Dan Snow June 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    Hi Lewis,
    Other than setting out string lines directly on a site for planning in full scale, 3-D modeling is the way I normally develop a building program. The clay model for this project is 1/4″:1′ in the horizontal
    plane, and 1/2″:1′ in the vertical. Doubling the vertical dimension is a trick I learned working as a model maker for the sculptor and
    land artist, Michael Singer (http://www.michaelsinger.com). It makes
    the spaces feel more “inhabitable” to the imagination.


  4. Lewis Wadsworth June 19, 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    Is this clay-model system normally how you visualize projects for your clients, Mr. Snow? Is there a general scale you work at in this kind of model? (The reason I ask: I’m an architect, and I recently worked on a project that included a great deal of landscape modification, which was painfully modeled over and over with computer software…clay might have a been a better approach.)

  5. Dean McLellan May 9, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    Thats a very unique way to discuss a project with a client. Looks much easier in clay! I am interested to see how this works out for you. I get the same question quite often, but always up against a mortared foundation the exists. Thanks Dean.

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