In detail - The hands that built the castle at Caernarfon Castle

The King's Gate project at Caernarfon Castle is a series of design interventions to the World Heritage site. As part of a short series, we look at the bespoke design details with a shared palette of materials and finishes that have helped shape the project. 

The hands that built the castle sculpture on the top deck of Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle has had a long and complex story over the past few centuries, playing a pivotal role in both English and Welsh history and its surrounding communities.

The 'Hands that Built the Castle' art installations at Caernarfon Castle are a comprehensive and integral part of the project's design approach. These installations, located across King's Gate, aim to provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the castle's history and the people involved in its construction. The artworks take the form of sculptures, glass floors, a stained glass window, ceilings, video, and detailed features on downpipes, seamlessly integrated into the new layer of architecture.

A sculpture at Caernarfon Castle
The hand sculpture on the upper deck of Caernarfon Castle
The hand sculpture on the upper deck of Caernarfon Castle

Rather than presenting a single story, the installations encourage visitors to form their own interpretations of the castle's history. They offer a new narrative, celebrating the contribution of every individual involved in building the castle, from the labourers to the King himself. Alongside the sculptures, fragmented objects are displayed, representing elements of an imagined once-whole statue.

Stained glass art installation at Caernarfon Castle

"The art element of architecture is about storytelling. We're interpreting through the medium of architecture. With Caernarfon, we lean into the story that's already been told to create that new chapter." - Stephen Anderson, Buttres

Within the castle grounds, three sculptural pieces have been strategically placed to guide visitors. The Master builder greets visitors as they enter and acts as a wayfinder. The carpenter's hand sits on a plinth, while the Labourer's hand is fixed in the landscape, as a symbol of those who dug the castle's foundations. The surrounding grass area by the sculptures has been re-laid with wildflower turf, enhancing the sense of overgrowth and forgotten history associated with this role.

As visitors explore the King's Gate, they are met with a variety of artistic pieces, representing roles involved in building the castle such as the blacksmith, stone mason, glazier, armourer, embroiderer, leadworker, and tiler. Once they reach the outdoor viewing decks the chamberlain and the King are represented. It was a key decision to represent King Edward I as scattered fragmented objects, representing elements of an imagined once whole statue.  

The painted tiered ceiling brings all the sculptures together and shows 88 characters from the late 13th/early 14th century from different strata of society. Arranged in a pyramidal form, the piece shows both the variety of specialised work in the medieval era and the hierarchical nature of society.

Each piece of artwork is accompanied by an information panel, providing details about the individual's story, role, and life within the castle. This encourages visitors to think beyond the structure itself and consider the lives that were impacted by Caernarfon Castle.



The interpretation design was completed in collaboration with Mark Woods, formerly of Hotrod Creations

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