Leslie feels she has a strong connection to Portland Works and makes sure to demonstrate this through her art. She uses various media to convey her feelings and ambitions for the site. It was fascinating to see the thought processes in her work and relate them to our own work. Leslie makes paper briquettes and bowls which are comprised of memoirs, notes, letters, and other miscellaneous personal items that she holds dear. She explains she wasn’t ready to throw away these things, and wanted to preserve them somehow. Her idea is to one day burn the paper briquettes as fuel within Portland Works, this relates to our own idea of burning sawdust briquettes as fuel.
Leslie also uses vegetation from around Portland Works to produce pressed floral artworks. She likes to preserve pieces of nature within her art, and again link it to her relationship with the building.
This rusted piece was produced using the remnants of a rusty piece of machinery at Portland Works. Leslie appreciates the layers that pressing rusted metal against paper produces, and views the art as being symbolic of the history of Portland Works.
After the meeting with Jon Orlek, a couple of us got the chance to meet photographer Carl Whitham. Due to the nature of his work, Carl enjoys working alone, but being part of a factory of little mesters. He occasionally sublets for half or full days but would not share his space permanently. When the building was bought by the shareholders he took a gamble and moved in before the purchase was confirmed. He tells us he much prefers Portland Works to his old studios in Dromfield as it is larger, warmer (than it was), closer, but in particular has a great community feel. So far he has collaborated with Stuart, Mark and others and is currently working on a film with Stuart. This film will look at the process of making a knife. Stuart and Carl value each others trades equally, so while Stuart gets the film about his process, Carl gets a knife made for him.
Mark previously used to be where Carl now has his studio. Carl has since insulated the room before it became listed. He has made panels for the windows insulated with Kingspan that are approximately one inch thick. These block out light but also help contain heat. The space also has two red light heaters that are not practical when photographing but heat up the room quickly when necessary. People tend to come to warm up in his space, much like in Andy’s forge. Carl also has electric heaters in his space but they are not as efficient, just more suitable for an ambient heat. He does not want a rocket stove as he needs very clean air for photographing. There would also be safety concerns as he additionally uses the space for exhibitions and events.
Carl showed us a photograph of the space from 1910 showing it in use. It was the finishing room, and previously had a room within a room, in a different layout to how he currently uses it.
This week on volunteer day we had the chance to speak with Jon Orlek. Jon is a past University of Sheffield architecture student who has worked previously with Live Projects on Portland Works. He decided to continue his involvement with the building and produced a cold spots report which we have had access too. In addition to this Jon does volunteer work and work with Studio Polpo. More about Studio Polpo and their work can be found here.
We decided to discuss our current ideas for the project with Jon, and he was particularly interested in the idea of the sawdust briquettes/pellets as fuel and the creation of temporary secondary glazing. He also seemed to find the story aspect of the project intriguing, and believed it should be intrinsic to our process and presentation. Jon thought the story should weave through what we were doing.
Jon’s own Live Project with Portland Works happened before the building was bought to save it from being turned into student housing. He said his group made a model and produced a report, also looking at how to publicise the works and help make decisions for the future. His cold spots report picked up where this report left off, providing further analysis and methods for the building to work more efficiently. Some of Jon’s later work, with Studio Polpo, looked at replacing the mezzanine in the artists space (the old showroom) with a ‘pod’ like structure and staircase, also offering useful storage space. This has not yet been done but the mezzanine is currently being dismantled, allowing the future tenants to decide on the future for the space. The idea of an insulated ‘pod’ is something we are continuing to explore within the group.
Jon told us to think carefully about how we tell the story of our project.
After meeting Jon we decided on individual group tasks for the day. Some of us were involved in surveying the future volunteer room for application of the proposed temporary secondary glazing while others completed various other tasks around the site (to become apparent in the following entries!)
The old showroom and soon-to-be artists space.
Watching the old showroom/artists space transform through the work of the volunteers on site. The natural light from the roof really makes the space.
One of the volunteers shows us the table that will soon be used by the rug maker who is moving into Portland Works close to the artists space. It is a fascinating piece of furniture and it would be great to know how old it is or how it was previously used.
Portland Works constantly surprises us with beautiful features within the building, such as this ornate letterbox.
Brian can tell what colour the steel is from the colour of the sparks…
Brian from Beehive Works had agreed to speak with us again about his story as a maker. He has been at Beehive Works since 1979 and despite having no online presence, has never had to look for work. He relies on word of mouth for his customers. The majority of what Brian produces ranges from cutting knives and combat knives to pottery tools etc. In contrast, he showed us his work with the sculptor Anthony Bennett, emphasising the beauty in the alternative application of his skills:
We were given a tour of the works and met Paul the polisher. On talking to them more about how they stay warm, relating back to energy, again the answer was keeping active, making. Brian also gave us a tour of the different parts of the building, pointing out where remnants of the old line shaft were. These transferred rotational power from the original steam engine, and then later – the gas engine, to the workshops.
Beehive Works is similar to Portland Works in that it was originally a cutlery factory. The owner sold the business but didn’t sell the property. Gradually the workshops were renovated and let out to individual tenants. There is a mix of tenants in the property including advertisers, musicians, editors and makers.
We have been enjoying getting to know the tenants at Portland Works and hearing more about their stories and connection with the building. This, in turn, is developing our own story as we progress in our live project and learn more about the role of energy on site.
Today we paid another visit to Andy, blacksmith at Portland Works. The main water pipes on site run above Andy’s forge, meaning they are warmed up and the water is transferred to the rest of the building. This is interesting to us as it is a way of transferring energy as heat around Portland Works. In addition to this, Stuart, the knife maker had enquired about ducting Andy’s hot air pipes into his own workshop to use the heat. Andy’s forge is a great source of heat on site and he told us that other tenants come to socialise in his workshop during the winter months to keep warm. We also found out that Brian from Beehive Works taught Andy how to use the grinding wheel.
We then got the opportunity to speak to Kevin of Walmar Products who is a cabinet/kitchen maker. He initially shared his workspace with a laser cutter manufacturer, but his workshop was too cold for the laser cutters to function properly. Kevin does not have a rocket stove, but he does use offcuts of wood for his traditional wood burning stove. His ambitions for his workspace are initially to try and refit the single glazed roof lights.
A visit to site would not be complete without catching up with Colin. This time we discussed the occupancy mapping undertaken by Studio Polpo and how a lot of the work would still be relevant. However, it would also be good to see mapping done for human scale energy strategies e.g. at room scale, moving from machine to machine etc. We also discussed a few ideas we were developing:
– the possibility of testing a strategy to retrofit the windows, for example – a temporary window that can be put in place to fit the existing windows. There could be two different cost options: a cheap solution that we could build, or a bespoke option that could alternatively be chosen depending on the individual/workshop
– the idea of creating insulated ‘pods’. This could be explored by creating a 1:1 sectional model alongside a small exhibition to show how to build a complete one. This could be done with a focus on where they could be used in the artists space in the old showroom
Colin told us he does not sublet any workshops at Portland Works. This means the organising of sharing space between two different people or companies is down to negotiation between the individuals. This shared space is important to consider alongside our ideas as we would be focusing specifically on the space itself, who it is used by and how it is used.
Paul Denial, a volunteer and a director at Portland Works showed us old photographs of the volunteers room where it appeared to be some sort of forge. He also told us more about the building. In the old showroom, the structure has been neglected and many rotten rafters and joists are currently being repaired. This space was a later addition to the main building. The front rooms along Randall Street are particularly warm from the sun, these used to be the administration offices when Portland Works was first built.