The Field Centre

Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0QE

2013

A centre for research in Practical Skills Therapeutic Education. Built for academic and practical research with gifts and grants received from the UK, USA and Germany

Field Centre conception

The origins and subsequent developments of Ruskin Mill Trust can be traced through a research process, one that endeavours to re-imagine the potential of its buildings and sites as well as its students. The main threads of that research draw inspiration through Goethean science as action research. In 2011, Aonghus Gordon began to formulate ideas and concepts for a new addition to the Trust, the Field Centre. The Field Centre was to act as a dedicated hub for collaborative research into Ruskin Mill Trust’s educational method and its underpinning influences.

The Zodiac Floor in the gallery at Ruskin Mill was laid in 1983 as the foundation and navigational route of the Trust. Drawn from Rudolf Steiner’s spiritual scientific research of the Seven Life Processes and the Twelve Senses, the two-dimensional floor acted as a template which would create the coordinates for a new three-dimensional building.

These archetypes were transferred to the design concepts of the Field Centre and went through a morphological process: threefoldness into the cross section; fourfoldness into the wings of the building aligned to the cardinal points; sevenfoldness into the seven rooms which mirror the Seven Life Processes; and the twelve-panelled chamber to embody the Twelve Senses.

A cross-section of the Field Centre

A cross-section of the Field Centre

Design

The location of the Field Centre was carefully considered and became the subject of a research process. This was done through collaborative inquiry. The building found its home in the centre of a biodynamic farm and the intention was that the researchers would be immersed in the landscape, like the students, in their personal and professional practice. Such a placing of the building would enable research to enhance practice and for practice to enhance research, an idea that was to become the axiom of the Field Centre.

Aonghus Gordon’s biography informed the building design. As a potter he saw the Field Centre as a pot or vessel. The archetype of the pot lent itself to the central structure and walls of the building, which is constructed using clay dug from all the Trust sites: the grey lias clay from Ruskin Mill forms the base layer; the next is red clay from Glasshouse; yellow clay from Freeman; then golden clay from Plas Dwbl and a still lighter yellow clay from Clervaux. The top layer of the rotunda wall is made using clay from Gables Farm, where the Field Centre sits. Craftwork from all the sites enhances the walls and shelves.

In addition, the building design and concepts were informed by the cultural experiences of the Trust: the history of art trips; the biodynamic conferences; the collaborations and teacher trainings. By incorporating these cultural streams into the design, there was an explicit intention that the interconnectedness of student biographies, the history of the Trust and its guiding principles work as one.

The design for the Field Centre brings together the various research strands and activities that have been woven into the biography of Ruskin Mill Trust for many years and gives them a home.

The Field Centre zones express certain human constitutional qualities: perceptual, metabolic and rhythmic

The Field Centre zones express certain human constitutional qualities: perceptual, metabolic and rhythmic

Growing a building

The Field Centre building was brought into existence by staff, students and the community. The collaborative construction provided an opportunity to develop a shared understanding and experience that would support future research and training. Each aspect of the building – stone, clay, wood, fleece, lime render – was researched as a collaborative action enquiry.

The trees for the timbers in the cupola construction were felled in the Ruskin Mill College woodland and extracted by heavy horses. School groups came and learned how to make clay bricks for the building. Staff, students and volunteers helped with sourcing, testing and researching the natural materials that made the structure. A series of workshops was offered to explore ancient technologies and generate new ones in order to grow a building using raw materials from the locality as far as possible.

Constructing the Field Centre took over two years, with support from the Hiram Trust and the National Philanthropic Trust. A focused team of three Ruskin Mill Trust staff worked closely with building contractors on all stages of the build, its progress followed by staff, students and the local community. The building was inaugurated in a Michaelmas celebration in 2013, a hundred years after the inauguration of Rudolf Steiner’s first Goetheanum.

Three people lifting wooden beams into place during the building of the Field Centre

Constructing the Field Centre was a team effort

Intentions

The research undertaken at the Field Centre directly supports the charitable objects of Ruskin Mill Trust. It aims to improve practice, evidence the benefits of the educational approach and deepen staff understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of the Trust’s Practical Skills Therapeutic Education (PSTE) method.

PSTE draws on the insights of Rudolf Steiner, John Ruskin and William Morris. Developing and renewing PSTE requires a critical investigation into their contributions, as well as an ongoing reflection on what they mean in the modern world. To this end the Field Centre supports research into the life and works of Steiner, Ruskin and Morris.

The Field Centre’s researchers use Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s method of integrative scientific enquiry, known as Goethean science. This recognises both the significance of this method in its own right and the important role that Steiner played in editing Goethe’s natural scientific work.

The Seven Fields of Practice, braided together to form RMT’s integrated student-guided curriculum, is central to the research done by the Field Centre.

The Field Centre’s principle is practice enhanced research, research enhanced practice. The goal is for all RMT staff members to understand themselves as reflective practitioners, carrying out research with a small r: a continuous questioning, observation and refinement of their own practice with students. Beyond this, a growing number of staff members hold doctoral and Master’s degrees and are involved in research activity of various kinds.

The Field Centre currently offers adult education courses for staff and the community including:

  • MA in Practical Skills Therapeutic Education
  • Pedagogic Potential of Craftwork
  • Teacher Development Programme
  • Therapeutic Properties of Music
  • Biodynamic Training Programme
  • Holistic Support and Care
  • Holistic Practices in Nutrition
  • Goethean Science Programme
Participants on the Trust’s Goethean science programme

Participants on the Trust’s Goethean science programme

Collaboration

The Trust method is now recognised internationally through the inspiration and delivery of Practical Skills Therapeutic Education. The research culture also sits in an international context which embraces the Trust’s charitable objects. These are the promotion of Rudolf Steiner educational establishments and their impulses, and disseminating the findings of research.

In this way, the Field Centre moves in a broader field of research and educational endeavour through collaborative work. Research and education projects that weave through the Field Centre include:

 

  • Co-founding of Meristem College, California, USA
  • Training Rudolf Steiner teachers in New Hampshire, USA
  • Inspiring specialist teachers and staff on Chongming Island, Shanghai
  • Negotiating the delivery of teacher training in the University of Nanjing, China
  • Delivering an MA in Special Education in partnership with the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
  • Partnering in an Erasmus+ project with Magyar Minőségi Komposzt Társaság, Hungary
  • Partnering, researching and collaborating with Temple Wilton CSA Biodynamic Farm, New Hampshire, USA, and the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University
A group of people with their ands on a bread oven they crafted on Chongming Island, Shanghai

Hands on crafting of a bread oven on Chongming Island, Shanghai

Lamp of Sacrifice

The Lamp of Sacrifice offers something additional, going above and beyond what is required or even requested as a sign of devotion, making a sacrifice of oneself through labour, detailed handwork, or even financial cost.

In architectural terms, Ruskin speaks of using the highest quality materials, even if they are not visible, ensuring that there is a delicacy in the work, even if it will be hidden away. At the Field Centre, additional care was taken in choosing the materials, whether sourcing clay from the sites or acquiring the wool for the insulation. All around the building there are little details, carvings or fixtures, that are offered to the building, to the Field Centre, made out of devotion rather than necessity.

“It is not even a question of how much we are to do, but of how it is to be done; it is not a question of doing more, but of doing better.”

 

– John Ruskin

 

The central atrium and open gathering space of the Field Centre

The central atrium and open gathering space of the Field Centre