Occasionally projects appear which force us to address and challenge the value system of an entire culture and how it will address its past and construct a future. This is one such project.
Unfortunately, the result was something of a disaster in our view, nicely summed up by Kjeld Vindum in Arkitekten. You can download this article by clicking on the link below.
The difficulty in the project resides in the need to choose, or to at least negotiate, between three important aspects of the Jellingstene complex. How can we find a compromise between the following:
- the need to preserve and protect heritage artefacts of national significance;
- the need to provide an environment suitable for visitors viewing the stones; and
- the need to do all this without destroying the context in which the stones are located?
We suggest that the answer to this seemingly impossible question requires critical questions of the site and its history, including past, present and future. Only by allowing for an organic overlap between past and future we can free the design process from the weight of the past. We can then understand that the stones are located at the intersection of multiple values representing a certain kind of crisis that must be dealt with in some way for a proposition to be successful.
The dilemma is evident in the tension between the idea of housing the stones in a museum and finding a way to retain them on their site. This is a tension between the value of the material object and the value of relationships between objects - that is, the stones and their greater context. We can add a third value relating to the question ‘what do we build now’. These three, sometimes conflicting values can be summarised in terms of: object, relations, and future.
The history of the site could, for the purpose of illustration, be crudely categorized in terms of a series of material transformations of the site - King’s compound, stone ship, mounds, stones, three churches, le Jardine Engleise. The site thus provides evidence of an accretive process, starting over 900 years ago when the stone ship was first established. In this accretive process each new layering of the site has resulted in a disruption and in some cases deliberate obfuscation of previous layers. For example, the burying of the stone ship, the construction of the mounds and the addition of the church have all served to disrupt previous understandings if the site while suggesting new ones.
At no previous time in the development of these material layers has the ‘value’ of previous layers - either material or relational - been a driving consideration in what happens next. The first observation to make then of these value conflicts is that the very presence of the dilemma is unique to our time, it is in a way our defining issue.
In a context already laden with history, we are required to add a new layer. There is no escape from this need, for to avoid it will result in the relocation of the stones and the loss for all time of the chance to experience the potential of these multiple contexts at play in the same location.
So, to project a future for the site, our approach is to look for the openings - gaps that appear between these value conflicts and between the historical layers of the site. In these gaps we might find new potential, such that we can use architecture as a tool too see earlier site relations or glimpses of prior site arrangements.
We can observe that although previous attempts to disrupt preceding layers (burying the stone ship, building a church across its keel line, building a new mound), subtle clues still remain – such as placing the key stone on the old keel line. So, once the church appeared on the site, it was no longer possible to open the site up in ways that allowed you to see the stone ship in full or connect with the adjacent landscape in the same way. Yet, when you stand with the stone you are still standing in the boat conceptually – such that the announcement of a new religion may have been understood differently by those with previous knowledge in the context of previous histories. This act shows a sophisticated ability to work back and forth through history - a skill we have lost in our desire to preserve both material and context in a holding patter as defined by a previous era and resistant to change.
To go forward, we have to ask - what is the nature of the current condition? And in this condition, what is more important, material, context or activity? Or can we do the impossible and harness all three?
We suggest that we can – via another accretive move which might enable experience of one or more components of the previous history. Thus, we suggest a shelter for the stones which is neither a statement of the modern nor a timid response which simply makes concrete our fear as a culture that we cannot answers these questions. We suggest a sort of time machine, which exists now but takes visitors into each of the past incarnations of the site while proposing a future where this building type may become more prevalent as our confidence increases.