Once upon a time

... a group of young architects made their dreams a reality, and reality made their dreams

Conceived as a space for collective story telling, the Folktale Bothy is perched on a hill east of Aberystwyth, with views of the valleys, sea and a steam train route. At its centre is a pitted fire in a twisted chimney. The structure projects towards the valley, providing an exposed, cantilevered viewing platform for private reflection. Constructed of materials from the surrounding forest, it is the result of a desire by a group of architecture graduates to work physically and engage with materials. 

We formed StudioMitH at architecture school, to centre a collective sensibility and ‘do’ something. Our education had deconstructed many of our preconceptions but we felt had stopped short of assisting us build a positive approach to architectural practice. After our Part 1, we began exploring this for ourselves – we are interested in ideas about counter design, based on social and ethical values, and challenging prevalent ideas of the architect as an artist in search of the Total Work of Art. We have architecture in common, but different backgrounds – philosophy, history, art, urban planning and carpentry – make our approach multi-disciplinary.

Motivated by this need to be doing, and a desire to experience the anthropological core of building, we sought a site – and, importantly, a client. This led us to Sue Jones-Davies, ex-mayor of Aberystwyth, actress and orator, whose family owns a piece of forest in the village Ystumtuen. Her passion to preserve the Welsh language and the heritage of the oral tradition, coupled with the forest, inspired a narrative of vernacular architecture, story telling and natural materials.

The design for the Bothy was derived from the site and developed through 3D experimentation, play and our experiences of the forest. Designing and building was symbiotic

The design for the Bothy was derived from the site and developed through 3D experimentation, play and our experiences of the forest. Designing and building was symbiotic, taking place simultaneously. 

Throughout the first six months of the build, we faced many challenges arising from using an unadulterated site and self sought local resources. Six tonnes of slate was gathered by hand from the forest bed to create two dry stone retaining walls. The ground space was hammered out of the monolith stone that runs through the hill. Western Red Cedar was felled, stripped, oiled and married to form columns and bracing for the reciprocal frame. Sitka Spruce was milled on site and charred in a burrow to make treated cladding. 

Revelling in the adventure of the build, we designed the Bothy from within: it is fabricated from and built for the place. Its cyclical values were born from StudioMitH’s experience, with our on-the-job experience built into the structure as we went. 

The ascent to the Bothy is a breathless one, gradually revealing its angled timbers crowning a parabolic, striated black surface. Inside, cedar oil from the fire suffuses the senses. Planked seating is crooked but smooth to touch. Shadows from the fire dance across the structure’s lipped casement and slip into the darkness above. A story begins to paint itself across the imagination. Pause, embraced by darkness. Stars flicker above and shadows swell below; a moment to pause for breath, and be. 

Ghosts of the past

The site, in the small village of Ystumtuen, is a PAWS – Previous Ancient Woodland Site. This means that the Forestry Commission would ultimately like to restore it to the oak woodland native to the British Isles.

The site was extensively mined during the Roman period and some mines that have been found date back to the Bronze Age, meaning that the land has been worked and re-worked over millennia. 

The trees on site today were planted after Second World War, to re-stock timber supplies in anticipation of possible future conflict.