London-based architects Matthew Butcher, Kieran Wardle and Owain Williams have re-interpreted an ancient tradition with their project The Mansio. In the Roman Empire, travellers could take respite at a mansio, which often could be found on the side of long, winding Roman roads as official resting places.

The group of architects secured a commission from the Hexham Book Festival and Arts&Heritage to design an extraordinary, accessible and movable structure. The Mansio is open to the public as it crosses the country following the line of Hadrian’s Wall and stopping at specific locations over the coming months. At numerous sites along the length of this historic World Heritage Site, it will act as a place for visitors to explore, take refreshment and listen to new written work by authors and poets.

Referencing the industrial appeal of northern England, the unconventional cabin is constructed from steel and polycarbonate, a high-performance plastic. Butcher, who has an experimental approach to architecture and lectures at London’s UCL Bartlett School of Architecture, explains that the material properties play a crucial role: ‘The polycarbonate’s translucency will change from moment to moment depending on the weather. In this environment, you are exposed to the nature of the sky, the clouds and the sun, and these shifts will change the way the structure looks – from glowing one minute to being blended with the landscape the next.’

Considering that Hadrian’s Wall formed one of the frontiers of the Roman Empire, the seemingly light structure carries the weight of history. Its simultaneous appearance and disapperance hopes to evoke the ephemerality of the journey, the natural ways in which people inhabit one place and then another, and with it the ever present issue of borders and colonisation. Accordingly, the highest point of the cabin, a narrow tower measuring 6.5 m in height, can easily be associated with watch towers and military occupation. These and other themes will potentially be explored within the interior of the structure.

Photos Brotherton/Lock