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I can think of a number of times when I’d be lost in a book and just want to indulge myself in that world, that’s the beauty of set design that’s always fascinated me on how people can bring a book to life through design.

To be able to physically walk through a space that you’ve only heard described to you and never seen, or one that you can only see on TV is a magical thing. That’s why the likes of Disney land are so popular.

For my Charrette back in 2015 this is what we had to achieve, design a set based on a book. Although, kind of with a twist, the set we were designing was anything but magical, with the story being based around a murder, jail and then redemption. The set we were designing was following the narrative of the book, with each piece of our small studio describing a different event in the script, which sounds pretty fun!The first scene was a basic depiction of the protagonists home life, with the family being a key element in the story it was important to show this and then eventually the descent of the protagonist. To keep the play feel as people walked through this space, there was a clear walk way with pages of the book placed in order as people walk through the space, with one clear path in and out it was made easier to describe the story in a clear narrative.

The scene I was directly involved with was definitely the most fun and exciting, after all creating prison is every designers dream, I think. But it wasn’t that simple. We had to depict, the murder, the prison, the interview and also transition from a bright atmosphere to a dark one.  This was done with our group, firstly having one of us role playing as a prison guard, deliberately being rude and rough with everyone. Then creating nooses that people would have to walk through as a kind of seriously messed up curtain for the space, with the first thing people being greeted by bloody hand prints and an outline of a body on the floor. Like I said it was fun.

After that we had an actor playing as the protagonist himself, in the story the murder became widespread across the papers, so we used this and integrated it with the interview with the police that was also a pivotal point. To show this we had our actor sitting being a wall of newspapers describing the murder, with the silhouette of his face being projected onto them on the other side by projector. With him muttering the same lines over and over again as people walked through the space, complemented by a creepy sound loop of clanging metal, distant screams and cries. People were keen to speed through it and that’s fair enough.

The rest of the set ends in a brighter note, with the set transitioning into autumn leaves and sunshine, showing when the protagonist eventually gets out of jail, offering the user a clear narrative of going from darkness to light. But most importantly taking the user through that experience too, to try and reflect what the protagonist feels to the user. This Journey is what many designers want to achieve with spaces also, an experience, feelings, although minus the blood.

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Charrette

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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