Contemporary design in Medieval France


I recently visited the medieval castle of La Roche Jagu in Brittany, France, and came across a beautifully maintained site with grounds overlooking the valley of the Trieux river. The grounds on their own are worth a visit. They include different types of plants and trees, a beautiful medieval garden and fantastic views over the valley and river.

The interior of the castle has been renovated with care, with the new clearly defined from original elements yet also complementary. The ground floor is home to a permanent exhibition on medieval life, including smells and sounds that would have been common at the time. Herbs and other plants are encased inside furniture and visitors can lift a lid to smell them while information is displayed underneath. Single headphones held inside a medieval looking leather pouch provide phonic sensations. It’s all understated and tasteful and the guided visit is excellent, focussing on everyday knowledge and facts that enable visitors to immerse themselves in medieval life.

The upper floors are home to temporary exhibitions and this year’s was on design with spatial design contributions from Matali Crasset and M Studio, and intricate paper architecture and designs from Ingrid Siliakus, Beatrice Coron, Maud Vantours and Mathilde Nivet. The curator made great use of the spaces with paper designs hung to catch the light or delicately stand out against the rough stone wall. Matali Crasset created a timber air balloon for a school to use as part of a playground and colourful floor cushions for kids to lie on while watching an animated film. My personal favourite though was M Studio’s sensory space. It was full of surprises. Floors that looked hard were soft underfoot while objects that looked like lamps were actually aromatic plant holders of the head.

Spatial Experience talk

By Valerie Mace

I was invited by the MA Information Experience Design at the Royal College of Art to give a talk on Spatial Experience – An Insight into Environmental Perceptions. MA students form different courses across the programmes were able to attend, they were a fantastic audience and I hope many of them will be able to use the talk as the basis for further research and inspiration for their own design practice.

Valerie Mace on Spatial Experience recording


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Model – Anthony Gormley

Perceptual system data recording

Anthony Gormley ‘Model’ White Cube Gallery, Bermondsey, London. 02/01/13 Based on J. J. Gibson perceptual system and Joyce Malmar and Frank Vodvarka ‘Sensory Design’

This activity was carried out with design students at LCC while on site visit. Each student completed their own chart mapping and recording their perceptions. This is one example.

Model-exterior Model-interior1 Model-interior2

Duration of the visit: 45 minutes in the main installation’s gallery space

Chart completed: after an initial familiarisation with the environment (2nd visit) √

Participation: Active √

Visual system: the rust coloured surfaces of the installation and soft grey and white of the gallery creates a contrast of warm against cool and intense against dull. The visible patterns and soldering joints on the sculpture hint at the construction method leaving a memory trace of when the installation was assembled. The scale of the oversize exterior matches that of the gallery that contains the work but contrasts sharply with the intimacy of the interior chambers. The changes of light levels from very bright on the outside to semi-darkness or complete darkness on the inside reinforce the sense of mystery and anticipation I felt when walking across the threshold of the installation. It’s not possible to get a complete view of the installation on the outside because of its size. It almost covers the entire length of the gallery, leaving only a narrow passage between the surface of the installation and the back wall of the gallery. As a result it is difficult to get a sense of the work as a whole and its depiction of the body. I had to concentrate to identify body parts. A superficial evaluation resulted in seeing only cubic containers assembled together in a seemingly random manner. However the narrow passage at the back creates a sense of anticipation and mystery about the other side which is only revealed upon crossing the passage and stepping back from the work. The same material used throughout forces me to focus on surfaces, form and void.

Auditory system: the light and dull tone of the sound vibrations in the very large room of the gallery contrast sharply with the deep, intense and loud tone experienced inside the installation. The contrast is especially strong on the threshold, when coming out of the echoic enclosed space feels almost soothing. Inside, variations in tone and intensity occur depending on the size and shape of the chamber, the smaller the space the deeper the sound, as well as on the material used in contact with the metal. Hitting the metal with a hard object such as the heels of my shoes creates vibrations that travel through the metal surfaces and resonate inside the structure. Voices also reverberate against the solid surfaces. It is therefore difficult to pin point the source of a sound with accuracy.

Taste-Smell system: neutral, similar to the rest of the gallery.

Basic-Orienting system: navigation occurs as a continuous run around the sculpture with only two openings and only one of them being an actual entrance. The entrance and the exit are the same so I had to walk back where I came from, forcing me to re-experience the event. Little is revealed about the circulation and the entrance remained hidden until I arrived almost directly in front of it. No information was given to help locate the entrance to the installation upon entering the gallery so I had to make a decision whether to go right or left. I chose right, which impacted on my experience of the event because I’d almost been around the entire model before I found the entrance while those who chose left found it sooner before they could see the other side. This means entering the sculpture with a clear mental picture of the outside (right) or only a limited one (left). Inside with no variations in materials, form, scale and light from openings are the main visual cue to aid orientation. A few symbols left from when the sheets of steel were in storage could provide visual cues akin to a basic form of signage although the installation is small enough to learn its layout fairly quickly.

Haptic system: the hard solid steel didn’t feel cold because it looked warm and because the temperature of the gallery was controlled to be neutral. It was fairly smooth with only a little texture. The metal felt heavier when I touched it than when I looked at it, possibly due to my own expectation about the material and also because the scale of the installation is broken down into smaller cubes. Next to the metal, the polished concrete floor appears softer than it actually is. Kinaesthesia: The spacious exterior allows for unconstrained movement. The interior is a continuous run of chambers of various scale and light levels. As a result I became hesitant, slightly disorientated and forced to slow down in places, even bend down where the height was reduced to a minimum.

Temperature & Humidity: neutral. Controlled independently by the gallery.

Time Perception: I didn’t think about time while exploring the sculpture. The focus is on discovery and navigation and because the mind is busy mapping he environment time seems to stand still.