AAJ Press
Architecture & Design, Art & Public Space, Art Projects, Commissions, Commissions & Projects, Competitions, Environment, Sculpture

The Gretna Landmark: Cecil Balmond / Charles Jencks. The Star of Caledonia – The Great Unknown

The Gretna Landmark Trust announced on July 4th 2011 that Cecil Balmond is the winner of the Gretna Landmark project “The Great Unknown” – a new national landmark work of art that will celebrate the border crossing into Scotland at Gretna. The Star of Caledonia (working title) is Cecil Balmond’s response to “the Great Unknown”. It is a project of form and landscape, and is the result of a fully integrated collaborative effort between Cecil Balmond and the Creative Director of the project, Charles Jencks.

Charles Jencks describes the work:

“Crossing the border to Scotland, across the River Sark, is now a passage obscured under a bridge by cars travelling at speed. Instead of marking this with motorway signs we are using a landform and sculpture that pulls together the adjacent site, the distant hills and the Solway.

Nestled into the curving mound and springing from it is Cecil Balmond’s whirling creation. In one sense, it is a scintillating piece of calligraphy seen against the sky which will signify various meanings as you approach – starburst, energy, St. Andrew’s Cross, thistle, Highland Dancing, etc – or, if you look at the right place, the ‘map of Scotland’. It all depends from where you see it in the landscape. These meanings emerge dramatically as you walk the site, but they are also taken up by the landform and embedded in its curves.”

The Star of Caledonia was born out of an idea by Balmond to capture the powerful energy, scientific heritage and magnetic pull of Scotland. Balmond’s design pays particular homage to Scottish innovation and particularly James Clerk Maxwell, the pre-eminent Scottish physicist, and mathematician noted for his groundbreaking work in electromagnetic theory. It was Maxwell who first said that light was energy and paved the way for Einstein and the other great thinkers of our modern world.

“The Star of Caledonia is a Welcome; its kinetic form and light paths a constant trace of Scotland’s power of invention. And I am delighted to be collaborating with Charles Jencks to create an integrated idea of this concept in both landscape and form.”  Cecil Balmond

Power, energy and the river of identity running deep (the river Sark is the border at Gretna) are clear and constant themes in the Jencks/Balmond design. By looking at the border as a series of journey crossings, back and forth, in waves that exit and enter into Scotland, Balmond has conceptualised The Star of Caledonia by using movement and shape to create a sense of energy.

The symbolism in Balmond’s design extends further through its subtle use of S-curves to mark the cross of St Andrew. And as the eye passes in movement across the structure, its abstract form appears to shift in a series of opening and closing undulations.

Three shortlisted international contenders, Ned Kahn, Cecil Balmond and Wilkinson Eyre, were invited to develop initial design ideas for the Great Unknown. The wider creative direction and themes for the Gretna Landmark evolved out of a series of seminars and workshops involving leading Scottish cultural thinkers led by Charles Jencks. ‘Energy’ and ‘innovation’ came out very strongly as themes within the brief, especially the role that energy and its conservation might play in the future, the inventive energy of the Scottish people and also the natural energy of Scotland’s dynamic landscape.

This project is being developed by the Gretna Landmark Trust, and produced by Wide Open (South Scotland) Ltd. The initiative is supported by Dumfries & Galloway Arts, the community of Gretna, Gretna Green and Springfield, Alasdair Houston of the Gretna Green Group, Dumfries & Galloway Council, Scottish Enterprise and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.


About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: