CHECK THIS OUT! The Goddess of the North sculpture

What do you do if you have 1.5 million tonnes of mining waste lying around? If you're the Blagdon Estate, you get Charles Jencks to design a huge sculpture of a reclining female nude, that's what.

Sculpture comes in many scales, from the microscopic creations of Willard Wigan to Anish Kapoor's tangled Olympic Park giant ArcelorMittal Orbit. Few though, can match the mighty proportions of Northumberlandia, aka Goddess of the North, a 400 x 254m landscape modelled at an epic scale to resemble a recumbent female nude.

Northumberlandia sketch

An early sketch of the plans

In 2004 the Blagdon Estate and The Banks Group had a problem: their proposal for a surface mine had been rejected.

The solution? A new proposal, including a monumental art work as the centrepiece of 19 hectares of public parkland whilst finding an innovative use for superfluous mining waste.

Fast-forward eight years, £2.5m of privately funded cash, and a lot of earthmoving; Northumberlandia is about to open its doors.

How they built it

The grassy, stepped mounds are formed from 1.5 million tonnes of soil and clay dug from the adjacent mine. Separating the vertical layers are 4km of sharply contrasting white paths.

The resulting effect is like seeing the contour lines of an OS map overlaying the terrain, or looking at the spline model of a 3D character.

The serpentine of walkways draws the eye, defines the form, and leads the visitor around the site to its peak on the forehead 34 metres above the ground. It takes an impressive 20 minutes to walk the perimeter.

Northumberlandia artists impression

One of Charles Jencks' artist's impressions

The incredible landscape was designed by Charles Jencks, best known as a sculptor, landscape artist, architectural critic and theorist.

His approach to design is demonstrated in The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, a personal work that brings together a traditional approach to landscape architecture as imitative of nature, with a modern understanding of the world through science.

His gardens aren't as simple as a topiary hedge or a ha-ha, they're complex metaphors for chaos theory, biology, and cosmology.

Northumberlandia 2

The head has taken shape by June 2012

Speaking on his inspiration for the landform, Jencks discusses how we empathise with shapes that relate to the human form.

The mounds of Northumberlandia are recognisably human, but their outline is also echoed in the distant Cheviot Hills, inviting us to contemplate the human relationship with our wider environment.

Cosmic relationship

By suggesting this cosmic relationship Northumberlandia sits nicely with the mysterious geoglyphs, hill figures, burial mounds, barrows, and henges that litter the British landscape.

With the passing of time it might even provide its own intriguing conundrums for civilisations to come.

Northumberlandia 1

An aerial view of the finished sculpture, which opens to the public in September

Northumberlandia's opening ceremony takes place on September 3, 2012 and is due to be open to the public later in the year. Entry is free.

Words: Paul Roberts

Paul Roberts is a 3D artist and designer, teaches 3D modeling and animation, and is one of the editors of Max Underground, a website dedicated to CG news and reviews.

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