Monday, 3 September 2012


Hoswick is a small settlement west of Sandwick on the eastern coast of southern Mainland in the Shetland Islands. The locals, with their tongue tuned to the speedy Shetland dialect, call it ‘Hosik.’ It is an old village sitting on the slopes that overlook Sandwick and the North Sea. It still has its original chapel standing inconspicuously on the narrow lane leading up the hill. This is an interesting little building as it displays a modesty in its simple effort to be formal, to express the qualities one might relate to, expect from, a chapel that, in the order of things, needs to be differentiated from a cottage, even when the same materials are used for construction.

This small building remains roofed and sealed, but is showing signs of wear and tear with time. The Shetland weather is harsh, but surprisingly this little structure survives. Only the eaves show the extreme ravages of time. Here rust has gnawed at the galvanised corrugated iron overhang, fretting the edge in a remarkable manner. - almost decoratively making castellations, patterned like a Grecian frieze. It is a puzzle as too why this edge has deteriorated in such a specific manner. One wonders why: what could cause this?

On a closer inspection, it is noticed that the regularity of the fretted profile coincides with the frequency of the laps in the sheeting. Where there is no lap, just the single sheet, there is a void. Here the sheeting has rusted away, but only back to where it rests on the external timber cladding. Where there is a lap - two sheets of steel - the sheeting remains projecting out to its original extent, but only for the width of the lap where the sheets have been doubled. Why is this so?

The North Sea is less than one kilometre away. Hoswick is elevated above the lower land between it and the water. It is well exposed to the wind and rain that blows in from the east. It seems that the overhanging single sheet of steel has suffered with the attack from the salty water on both faces, corroding it away faster than it has on the double lap. Here the corrosion has eaten into, say, only half of the face of each sheet, leaving the paired sheets thinner but still in tact, whereas the single sheet has had its two halves eaten out leaving, as the simple mathematics shows, nothing. Ironically, it gives a wonderful outcome as a patterned failure, completely unintended, but very decorative. The rusted edge highlights the other intended, self-conscious decoration and the formal organization of this little place that had a communal importance.

The windows are quaintly ordinary, but chapel-like with their tiny twin, pointy arch gestures that refer to the grand cathedral window. They display a simple subtlety and a genuine modesty. It is extremely sweet and certain, like the roof forms of the chapel are. Here gables of differing pitches with aligning ridgelines spring from the same wall plate. Puzzlingly, a phantom gable is shadowed on the western end. There is no immediate confirmation of the purpose of this marking, but one assumes it to have been made by another space. It is immediately assumed that it might have been an entry porch; but there is no evidence in any other markings to suggest that there could have been a doorway in the existing, remaining wall that might have been the entry off a little portico. Still, it is all very nicely organized, with the smallest gable matching the steepest and most Gothic, with the ridge line in the same alignment and level as the gable it abuts. The whole reminds one if an Aalto building, such is its self-conscious naivety.

The walls are clad in timber with a battened joint system that looks Norwegian, like Norwegian homes, not their wonderful Stave churches. The charming modesty is so meek and sober that one remains uncertain, ambivalent, about the reading of this place. Is it really the chapel that one thought it was? Maybe it was the local hall? It is only the text in one of the windows that confirms the first reading. HOSWICK GOSPEL HALL  SERVICES  LORD'S DAY  11.15AM BREAKING OF BREAD.

 We can learn a lot from this little structure. It shows how simple it is to build a chapel using the same materials as those used for cottages, shops and sheds, while still being able to give the place its own identity. It reminds one if those wonderful, usually corner shops that are attached to the home of the shopkeeper in Australian country towns - how the shop is clearly the shop and the home the home, with there being no problem in differentiating between the entries too both: public and private offer no puzzle here. This little place in Shetland stands elegantly and simply, with a modest decorative theme that is within the limits of the system of materials and construction, yet it marks the building as being other than a cottage, shop or a shed. It displays a skill in ordinary forming that we need to study more closely, because we have become too extreme in our great desire to make things uniquely different, special, usually with great effort in styling. All we really need is a certain humility and rigour in our working and then we might come to understand how little things can make such a significant difference in our environment, and how serious effort can distort and deform.

This tiny example also shows us, in Frank Lloyd Wright's words when speaking about Taliesin West, how a building can make a beautiful ruin. The chapel is not yet a ruin, but the deterioration of the eaves reveals a unique and eye-catching edge as a 'ruin,' made by weather, time and neglect, as ruins are

For another corrugated iron chapel, well, in the scale of things, almost a cathedral, see NORWEGIAN WOOD and corrugated iron:  This site also illustrates the beautiful, corrugated iron clad homes of Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, a pretty little fiord village high on the east coast of the island. For more Shetland corrugated iron images, see

NOTE: 29 October 2014

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