A brief history of Kielder Art & Architecture 1995-

Over the past 16 years, the landscape around Kielder Water & Forest Park has become home to a unique collection of visual art and architecture, inspiring the creation of work in response to the scale and complexity of its unique environment and the area's varied and fascinating history. The abundance of contemporary art and architecture in this striking rural setting is accessible to all visitors and located at visitor centres, along the Lakeside Way and at sites within the forest.

The art and architecture programme at Kielder has been running since 1995, initially as a sculptural commissioning programme and since 1999, including architecture as part of its remit.During that time over 35 projects have been commissioned and over 20 pieces are currently available to visit, set across an area of 16 square miles, making the Park the largest outdoor space to experience art in the UK.

This site not only describes all the projects undertaken as part of the visual art programme since its inception but also considers other elements that make up the built environment of the park, such as the Valve Tower and the radar station on Deadwater Fell. It also includes proposals that never made it to realisation.

The visual art programme at Kielder was initiated by the Kielder Partnership, a forerunner of the Kielder Water & Forest Park Development Trust that now runs the programme. Developed in collaboration with the Arts Council in 1995 the project was overseen by the Tynedale Arts Officer based at the Queens Hall in Hexham.

Three initial sculptures - 'Earth, Wind, Fire & Water', 'Whirling Beans' and 'Shadow' started the programme in 1994-95. The folowing year Kielder celebrated the Year of Visual Arts with a festival that included works by Dutch performance artists Trajekt, Charlie Hooker, Angus Watt and the inflatable maze 'Eggopolis'.

The years that followed saw a series of sculptures commissioned for the wider Kielder environment. 'Log Lookout', 'Skedaddle', 'Flock', Kielder Keepsake', 'Wave Chamber' and'Viewpoints' were all created from 1996-98.  

Isabel Vasseur's 'Seeking Shelter' 1998 report for Kielder showed the way forward with contemporary architecture being proposed as a key plank of the  programme's future. In response to this the Kielder Belvedere was commissioned and completed in late 1999. During this same period the Kielder Partnership was working with James Turrell when an original project to build a Skyspace in the Pennines (initiated by curators Rob la Frenais and Tracey Warr) fell foul of both local planning (and the Daily Mirror) and had to be abandoned. The project was successfully adopted at Kielder and went on to become the Kielder Skyspace which opened in 2000.  

Projects since that time have explored the interface between art and architecture and include permanent and temporary works, art and architectural residencies and structures encompassing bore more and less practical outcomes. All are linked by the desire to explore in increasing complexity the landcape, flora and fauna, weather and seasons, night skies, occupation and history of what is an endlessly fascinating and unique location.  

Since 2008 when the Observatory was completed, the programme has been focusing on projects that are integrated within Trust member's broader initiatives such as the series of six shelters commissioned in 2009 that are now stopping points along the Lakeside Way multi-user track that circumnavigates the lake. Current work in progress sees artist Charles Quick working with Mosedale Gillatt Architects on the development of new accommodation at Leaplish Waterside Park and artists Heather and Ivan Morison working with architects JDDK on the Calvert Trust Kielder's capital development programme. An additional part of the Calvert's project is Friendandcompany's Bat Spiral habitat, also documented within this site.

Commissions have won a number of national architectural awards including the Stephen Lawrence Prize, four RIBA Awards, two Civic Trust Awards, a Wood Award and the Northern Culture Award for 'Best Use of Public Open Space'. In 2009 Kielder Art & Architecture was also honored with one of RIBA's Client of the Year Awards.


Site photography by Keith Paisley, Mark Pinder, Charles Barclay, Bob Sheil, Kristen McCluskie, Michael Baister, David Williams, James Morris and Peter Sharpe