Students design and build new campsite creation on world famous Dartington estate

A dramatic structure created by University of Plymouth architecture students was unveiled on the Dartington estate’s campsite near Totnes today, in time for the summer visitors.

The Big Tent is the latest creation in a successful three-year partnership between the University’s School of Art, Design and Architecture and the Dartington Hall Trust, which in previous years has seen the creation of a ‘Tiny House’ and a functional bird hide, which have been much used by the estate.

The year two and three students’ brief from Andy Humphreys, Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Architecture this year was to design a temporary seasonal shelter for the estate’s campsite, Camp Dartington. The design had to be able to be erected at the start of the camping season and taken down at the end in line with 2017 Camp Dartington planning consent, provide shelter from the weather, and be unique and out-of-the-ordinary.

The beautiful winning design, selected by Dartington Hall Trust’s craft learning programme manager Lou Rainbow, destination director Urszula Kossakowska and Duncan Passmore of Terra Perma Ltd in September surpassed this in every way, and amended planning consent for the design was granted by South Hams District Council in February 2019.

The winning team behind the design comprised of third years Josh Earl, Tom Harris, Eric Lai and Seb Mihaescu alongside second years Liam Morgan and Robert Johnstone. Final year degree students also prepared all the documentation to submit the planning application for the project prior to building on site. The winning group for preparing the planning submission, as selected by planning consultant Mary Elkington were Kasia Bogucka, Taylor Gittens, Tom Grimer, Freya Kay and Ioannis Kilinkaridis.

Andy Humphreys said:

"This year we were lucky that the students were able to stay on the Dartington estate and get a full immersive experience, meeting the team and getting to understand the ethos of the place. Actually being out of the studio and on site gave them a completely different perspective on the project, they understood what the work environment had to be like from a health and safety point of view and learnt a lot more about the materials by getting hands on.

"I think ten years down the line, this is an experience that students will look back on as an important part of their studies."

Lou Rainbow, Dartington Hall Trust Craft Learning Programme Manager added:

"The Big Tent is just awesome. A great collaboration, great ideas and a great team. It was an amazing experience for students to be among such great architecture in a fantastic landscape on the Dartington Estate.

"It has been so brilliant to have 70 architecture students from the University of Plymouth – actually building their own design! One student said they ‘will see a pencil line in 3D from now on…’ What more can you say? They have enjoyed the architecture trail across the estate; taking in amazing examples of modernism, brutalism. They’ve had a tour of the Woodland Presents with Al Tempest at The Glade as well as a scary lecture about climate change and the future of planning and architecture and the planet by James Shorten from Terra Perma Ltd. They have also loved the accommodation at Schumacher College and Perry, with hot showers and birdsong at 5am."

The 70 second year students brought the winning design to life while staying on the Dartington estate, gaining practical hands-on experience as their initial vision became a physical structure. Fittingly the students worked in an iconic space designed by US modernist architect William Lescaze – the former gymnasium of Dartington Hall School in the Foxhole building.

The build programme was led by Duncan Passmore, of Totnes-based ecological building company Terra Perma Ltd. Students were also supported by Ward Williams Associates, Figura Planning and Hydrock, who provided guidance on project management, planning and structural engineering respectively.

After completion, The Big Tent was moved into position at Camp Dartington, where a sold out field of campers will be the very first to test it out during the cultural festival Sea Change.

In the first year of the Dartington-University of Plymouth partnership in 2016/17, 140 second and third year students in BA (Hons) Architecture and BA (Hons) Architectural Technology designed and built the Tiny House using natural materials from the estate. The building was used at Camp Dartington and for the 2018 Sea Change festival. This was followed in 2017/18 with the design and build of a functional bird hide for the developing wetland at Queen’s Marsh. The structure’s entrance way and internal features were inspired by a visual representation of a soundwave of the call of the estate’s resident kingfisher.

"I think ten years down the line, this is an experience that students will look back on as an important part of their studies."

BA (Hons) Architecture Programme Leader Andy Humphies


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