Text description provided by the architects. Writ in Water is the first permanent commission for the National Trust through Trust New Art. The aim is to provide a lasting space for reflection on the significance and influence of Magna Carta and the extraordinary role it has in the history of human rights. The project was won in competition by Mark Wallinger who asked Studio Octopi to collaborate on the project.
One of the key challenges was locating the building in such an historic landscape. The Runnymede area is subject to a number of local and nationally significant landscape and ecological designations, including a floodplain, ancient semi-natural woodland, Site of Special Scientific Interest and an Area of Landscape Importance.
The building emerges from Cooper’s Hill on a small natural plateau between oak trees. The plateau has been enlarged to include a swale and a notched weir to prevent increased run-off from the structure.
It was agreed that the building’s materials should be drawn from the context, that the form should physically embed itself in the landscape and encoded within the design should be references to the passage of time.
The rammed stone uses locally sourced aggregates and sand which are crushed together forming the textured walls. Built up in layers 1 cubit (ancient unit of measure) high the resulting strata references the local geology at the heart of this ancient land. The texture of the walls varies depending on the amount of tamping, undertaken by hand, and contrasts with the bead blasted stainless steel surround to the pool.
An exterior doorway leads to a simple circular labyrinth, in which the visitor can choose to turn left or right to reach an inner doorway that opens out into a central chamber. Here the sky looms through a wide oculus above a pool of water.
The roof structure consists of 52 stained Douglas Fir rafters, continuing a reference to time; there are 12 apertures at low level in the outer walls lighting the path between the two walls. The timbers are stained black to increase the sense of space between the walls, with the roof being lost in the shadows. Water from the roof flows into the pool naturally refilling it. The disturbance of the reflection is a reminder of the fragility of our human rights. The sides of the pool are inscribed on the inner face, the water reflecting the reversed and inverted lettering of Magna Carta Clause 39.
Bead blasting was used to soften the reflections of the stainless steel. The pool surround is only 1 cubit high, encouraging visitors to interact with the artwork. A bench, cast as part of the inner wall, invites one to sit and contemplate the meaning of Magna Carta today. The construction budget was £410,000. Writ in Water has been made possible with National Lottery funding through Arts Council England and the generous support of Art Fund, the Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Henry Moore Foundation and Lord and Lady Lupton. With additional support from Iwan and Manuela Wirth, Valeria and Rudolf Maag-Arrigoni and Harris Calnan.