Around the fire

Warming up social bonds

According to Vitruvius, “the discovery of fire originally gave rise to the coming together of men [and women], to the deliberative assembly, and to social intercourse.” [1]

A thesis that American anthropologist Pauline Wiessner investigated in her field research exploring the relationship between socialisation and fire among the Kungs - a tribe of indigenous people living in the Kalahari Desert of Namibia. During her observations, she witnessed that most evening conversations around the fire were of social nature, and “more than 80% were stories.” [2]

Inspired by the words of Vitruvius and by the work of Wiessner, in this article we take a look at design projects that use the hypnotising power of fire to stimulate social bonds and a deeper awareness of the surroundings.



Author: Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec
Location: Kunsthal Aarhus, Aarhus, Denmark
Date: 2017

On the occasion of the 100 year anniversary of Kunsthal Aarhus - a contemporary art centre in Denmark - French designers Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec created OUI, a series of three sitting installations. Echoing the research of Italian designer Matteo Ferroni, the project reflects on the role of light as an activator of “informal meeting points”. Among the lighting devices chosen by the two designers features a glowing fire circumscribed by a ring-shaped bench. A simple structure that acts as a call for an intimate and collective gathering, the circular installation invites visitors to come together, chat, get inspired and simply “contemplate the flames”, say the designers.


Burning-Media-Tower-2002-Photo-Nikola-Lenivets Archive-russia-fireplace_theoffbeats-project-togetherness-in-design

Author: Nikolai Polissky
Location: Nikola Lenivets, Russia
Date: 2002

As an analogy to a television tower, made of alder and birch branches woven together, the Media Tower was built in 2002 in Nikola Lenivets, a land art centre situated approximately 200 kilometres southwest of Moscow. Described as a mixture between Vladimir Shukhov’s designs and the Eiffel Tower [3], the 27 meters high structure was one of the installations realised by Russian land artist Nikolai Polissky to be burnt at Nikola Lenivets. This practice, intrinsically linked to Polissky’s approach - that explores the unpredictability of time and nature - led many to describe the art centre as Russia’s very own Burning Man. [4]



Author: SHJWorks
Copenhagen, Denmark
Date: 2013

Thought as a temporary shelter - that was “to leave no traces” - the Fire Shelter 01 was designed in 2013 by Danish studio SHJWorks. It was erected in Sydhavstippen (Copenhagen), a former landfill site turned into a park where spontaneous plants developed over time originating a feeling of "post-apocalyptic" nature, as described by Simon Hjermind Jensen, SHJWorks’s founder. Inspired by nomadic architectures, the 4.7m tall structure was made of plywood and polycarbonate and featured a fireplace circled by a bench “filled with building materials found on the site to secure the shelter to the ground without the need of foundations”. Above all, the project was “about being in the company of good friends [...] around a fire during the dark time of the year”.


Author: Studio Young Projects
 Alberta, Canada
Date: 2015

Set on the banks of the Anna Lake - some kilometres north of the city of Calgary, in Canada - the Fireplace was designed by New York-based architecture studio Young Projects back in 2014. It was developed to provide a warming shelter for those curious to experience the natural beauty of the surroundings. Made of heavy wooden hunks piled up “according to simple rules of rotation”, the pavilion features a fireplace at its heart and an opening that creates a large window overlooking the lake and the nearby woods.




Author: Bruckner & Bruckner
Location: Domaine de Boisbuchet, France
Date: 2007

Designed by German architects Bruckner & Bruckner together with a group of students back in 2007, Domaine de Boisbuchet’s Pyramid is slowly ageing, its layered strips of natural wood tanning more and more as years go by. Set on the bank of the Domaine’s lake, the structure - sized 6x6 meters - welcomes visitors looking for a moment of peace and intimacy. Echoing with its geometrical shape the ornamental garden pavilions of the 18th century, the Pyramid is highly symbolic and calls for the unity of the four natural elements so ubiquitous at Boisbuchet. Although rarely performed nowadays, originally the structure accommodated small campfires that fostered communality and conviviality.


[1] Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture, trans. Morris H. Morgan (New York: Dover Publications, 1960, 38-39.) Quoted by Annette Lucia Giesecke, “VITRUVIUS TO VINYL : Paradise Lost - A Field Report from the Cul-de-Sacs of Despair”, p. 2-3, in Communal Societies, Vol. 25, 2005; [2] Robin I. M. Dunbar, How conversations around campfires came to be, full PDF here ; More about Polly W. Wiessner researches here; [3] ; [4] Sophia Kishkovsky, "A Defunct Collective Finds Its Muse"The New York Time, June 24th 2010;

COVER_Burning structure designed by Nikolai Polissky at Nikola Lenivets © Nikola Lenivets; 1_Oui by Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, courtesy of Kunsthal Aarhus; 2_The Media Tower,© Nikola Lenivets; 3_The Fire Shelter 01 by SHJWorks, courtesy of the architects; 4_The Carraig Ridge Fireplace by Studio Young Projects, courtesy of the architects; 5_The Pyramid by Bruckner & Bruckner © Domaine de Boisbuchet

Published: 13 Dec. 2017


#Fire #CommunalLiving #Design #Architecture #LandArt

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