When you think of cathedrals, what springs to your mind?
Great echoing spaces, soaring buttresses, acres of stained glass? Gothic arches and lancet windows? Or is it the ceremonial aspects? Thundering organ music or ethereal choirs?
Whatever the trigger, if you were to presented with something that represents a cathedral, you would need that reference to make the connection.
I mention this as context for the disappointment I experienced yesterday when visiting one of the attractions on the outskirts of Milton Keynes. The Tree Cathedral.
To my knowledge there are two such “buildings” in England; the original at Whipsnade in Bedfordshire which was begun in the 1930’s and completed after the war was inspired by Liverpool Cathedral, though the design is based on a medieval layout. The example that I visited is much more recent and was designed only 30 years ago, copying the layout of Norwich Cathedral.
Perhaps I chose the wrong time of year due to the lack of foliage, but I had thought that the trees in full leaf might become rather shapeless. There was certainly evidence of design, particularly in the hornbeams of the “cloister” but there was nothing here to create any sense of awe, just rows of trunks with parallel pathways running between them.
The impact was probably lessened further by the lopsided view that greeted my arrival. One of the two great leylandii had recently been felled, the aroma of pine resin still redolent. Had it been damaged in the storms we have experienced of late, or had some modern-day Samson felled one of the pillars of the temple?
I approached the structure from various angles but failed to find much of interest; a corner view that begged a bit of Gothic abstraction maybe?
Perhaps the best angle to view from would be directly above, where the cruciform design would become apparent, but without a drone that was denied me.
So much effort for so little impact, and yet it is possible to create something far more reminiscent of a great church as Giuliano Mauri’s 2010 installation near Bergamo in Northern Italy proves. Italian design wins the day again as you can see if you follow this link.
Nature had the last word. Without trying to be something spectacular the simplicity of a few daffodils saved the day.