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LILA 2023 Special Mention in Other Typologies

The Fire Ring is an object in the landscape, seemingly simple yet a complex node of several design intentions. The simplicity of the circle is challenged by the playful displacement of the logs and by orientation. The elegance of the shape is contrasted by the rough treatment of the surface of the logs. Furthermore, there is an ambiguous relation between the Fire Ring having a public or private feel. In this regard, the jury appreciated the scale, being too large for groups to claim it for private use and too small to lose the sense of ‘togetherness’. In terms of the overall attitude that shaped this object, and in the words of the designer, the Fire Ring transcends» one’s own body, local culture and global lifestyles«. That makes the Fire Ring not only an object or a playscape but (also literally) a hotspot that captures and radiates multiple relevant notions and contextual particularities.

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The Medium of Fire

“I am going to examine a problem in which objectivity has never held sway, where the initial seduction is so compelling that it deforms the most rational minds and leads them to the cradle of poetry, where daydreams replace thought, where poems hide theorems. This is the psychological problem presented by our convictions about fire. The problem is so directly psychological that I have no hesitation in speaking of a ‘psychoanalysis of fire.”

Gaston Bachelard

As dangerous as it can be, the archaic natural element fire has the ability to make public, urban space into a magical experience. The medium of fire draws people like moths to light, creating a catalyst and magnet for social life – experiencing its power together with others. Bachelard refers to the Imagination of Matter imbued with poetic experience that transcends the individual imagination.

The ancient Greeks spoke of the four natural elements Fire, Earth, Water and Air. They share the characteristic of ephemerality, having no fixed visual or spatial identity. Fire mesmerizes us, creates imagery we cannot foresee. We stare into it for hours with no need to speak. It is a powerful catalyst of imagination replacing the rational need of “doing” with that of “being”.

The Project

The Fire Ring creates a site-specific, recreational infrastructure as a scenography for the unfolding of rich social interactions. Recreational infrastructure is a contemporary issue in which standardized solutions often compete with the very experience of the landscape we chose to visit in the first place.

The XL Fire Ring interprets the traditional American “cowboy campfire” anew. The 10-meter diameter ring is a space of social gathering for both friends and strangers, creating at once a sense of warm intimacy and large-scale community.

The project responds to an increasing need today for simultaneously experiencing three scales: one’s own body, local culture and global lifestyles. At the scale of the personal bodily experience, the sensual wooden installation functions as an enormous sofa for the naked bodies of bathers. At the local level, in Swiss culture grilling is a loved national sport done only among friends and family. The intervention transfers this into a public event while also engaging the Swiss glacial history of the site, framing views to the surrounding landscapes. At the global scale, the trend among young people to take part in “urban event culture” of a city is enormous. The simple, archaic Fire Ring becomes a party space for large gatherings drawn by the size and power of the bonfire.

Form, Materiality and Atmosphere

The primal circular form inherently creates a space of gathering. It is a placemaking tool able to establish its own new address within the cityscape. Set between a lake, woodland fragments, a delicate wetland and a field, the large circle gathers and unifies its heterogeneous landscape edges as staged backdrops.

A tension is created between the organic, irregularities of wood and the absolute geometry of the circle. Acacia tree trunks used in their raw forms contrast with the smooth wooden seating surface. The trunks shift in width and length, playing the complexity of the figure’s edges against the simplicity of its geometric form. The detailing of the ring exposes the nature of wood and the processes of woodworking. Details were developed at the forester’s work yard choosing surfaces and cutting techniques never intended for design purposes.

Social Space: The Psychology of Seating

The tree trunks are composed in various ways to create a variety of uses, scales and settings for the unfolding of social life around the fire.

The place is informal and non-committal. You drift past, possibly choose to sit down, sit as close or far away from others as you wish, turn towards or away from them, gaze in all directions, lie down, lounge with your feet on a footrest. You can sit in small groups, shifting groups, intimate corners or large groups. You can set up a large party buffet, share your grill party or be alone and observe. The combination of shifting trunks and stools creates a vis à vis for people to connect or as a sideboard table across from the body, the trunks serving as side tables. The stools at the edge become footrests, creating an urban outdoor lounge.

The chosen materials and surfaces allow differentiated textures and levels of thermal comfort. By cool evening bonfires, a stone ring around the fire heats up, serving as a warm social seating floor. The large temperature-neutral wooden surface of the tree ring itself invites the visitor to spread out and appropriate it.

Designing with natural materials allows us to use their archaic power. The challenge of using them in public space is to draw out the depth of that power. This project attempts to tread lightly, to have not the design itself but the materials of wood and fire as the central focus, making them accessible to our subconscious.

Project Data

Landscape Architecture: Robin Winogrond Landscape Architecture. Urban Design., realisation with Studio Vulkan

Location: Riedikon, Uster, Switzerland
Design: 2019-2020
Realisation: 2020
Photography: Das Bild, Daniela Valentini, Robin Winogrond

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