Friday 25 April 2014


The house at Lund, Unst, Shetland, 2006

Lund: the name has a rich, haunting depth, resonating with a lingering mystery that is only enriched by references and recollections. I once worked with an architect with the surname ‘Lund’. He was a skilled, caring, enthusiastic and gentle man with a dedication and love for people and things Australian and Japanese. Memories of this time are all positive. This man was kind even to arrogant and critical students. He was forgiving. His love was for people and architecture, an excellent but very rare mix. Today both of these interests suffer from neglect as self-interest in self-expression takes over. Architectural ‘selfies’ might be the best way to describe some design outcomes today when everyone is seeking to take the centre stage in social media to declare ‘my opinion’ and ‘my thoughts,’ no matter how irrelevant or inconsequential these might be. Consider one Prime Minister of Australia placing an image of himself on-line with an accidental razor cut covered with a small tissue (Rudd); and another, (Abbott), who put an image of himself on-line obviously posing while apparently talking to another ‘important, international’ Prime Minister on some very 'serious' matter that might be seen to enhance his self-importance. One hopes that neither man will ever suffer from piles.

'Mr. Lund' as we called him, (one thinks of how Frank Lloyd Wright was always addressed as ‘Mr. Wright’), once sent a gift with a note of thanks to his Japanese ‘family’ as he described them. It read:
Here’s to thee and thy folk,
From me and my folk.
Never have folk loved folk,
More than me and my folk,
Love thee and thy folk.

It is a beautiful old Welsh blessing that Neville Lund, (we called him ‘Nev’ behind his back), wrote for his Japanese family friends. It says more about him and his sensitivity than anything else. His enthusiasm for life and ideas spilled out into others, and was as infectious as his broad smile and bright eyes. How many architects might write such a note of thanks today and mean it, let alone understand such a sentiment and live its feelings? Neville Lund brought all of his love, care and enthusiasm to his skills as an educator too. The one sad story that remains unforgettable is that the first Gothic cathedral Neville Lund ever saw was when he, as a young man, was the navigator in one of the WW2 bombers that flattened Nuremberg. It was after the war that he, like others, returned to Queensland, Australia to study architecture.

Neville Lund house at Mt. Nebo, Queensland, Australia

One has to mention Neville Lund’s important thesis on the work of Queensland architect, Robin Dods who built some of the most intelligently beautiful buildings in Brisbane and its regions. This study still remains a primary reference for Dod’s life and work. Neville Lund was also part of the team that published one of the first comprehensive studies on Queensland Architecture. He played an important role in Queensland, but his modesty has reverberated through time to minimize the historical record. Those that scream make the history. Sadly, the first item that comes up under his name in a Google search is some real estate blurb that is trying to sell one of his homes. Architects need to do much better with their past than this. It will mean that they will have to think of someone other than himself or herself.

There is a ‘Lund’ in Sweden, a city located at the southern tip of the country close to Denmark. The town has over 80,000 inhabitants and was founded around 990 when the region belonged to Denmark. At the centre of town stands the towering Lund Cathedral built ca 1090 – 1145: see  It is not known if Neville Lund ever visited Sweden or saw Lund. He never visited the Shetland Islands that were, like this portion of Sweden, also once a part of Denmark.

Lund Cathedral

Lund University tells about the Nordic roots of this place name used as a surname and gives ‘Lund’ a broader reference and context:

Lund Name Meaning
Scandinavian, German, and English: topographic name for someone who lived by a grove, Old Norse lundr; the word was adopted into northern dialects of Middle English and also into Anglo-Norman French. There are a number of places in England named with this word, as for example Lund in Lancashire, East Yorkshire, and North Yorkshire, Lunt in Merseyside, and Lound in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, and Suffolk, and the surname may derive from any of these. The Swedish surname is probably more usually ornamental. When surnames became obligatory in Sweden in the 19th century, this was one of the most popular among the many terms denoting features of the natural landscape which were adopted as surnames, usually compounded with some other such term.

As it is with most names, ‘Lund’ has a history that is rooted in a simple idea or description - ‘lundr’ identifies one ‘who lived by a grove.’ It comes from a time when geography and location were used to identify individuals. This reference is still used in the Shetland Islands where individuals are referred to by their Christian name and their location. My father was known as ‘Willie o’ Gue.’ ‘Gue’ is a location in Baliasta on the slopes of Crussafield, north of the old kirk. Surprisingly, the site notes that ‘lund’ means ‘penis’ in Hindi. Such are the enigmatic joys of language that so easily encompasses such diversity.

View north from the house at Lund, Unst

But was there a grove on the island of Unst in the Shetland Islands? Today the islands are treeless, with their bare hills exposed to the blasts of gales and storms, and occasionally to the caresses of the most glorious of sunny, cloudless skies. There is a location named Lund on Unst, in the southwest portion of this small island. The Nordic link rings true as there is an archaeological Viking site nearby; but how did this place get named? It is an old name that is recorded on an 1874 map of Shetland when only a few other places are identified so precisely. What was the importance in this name that identifies a location high on a hill and a building generally referred to as ‘the house at Lund'? Indeed there is a house, one that has stood as a mysterious ruin for years, dark against a dull sky. The haunting quality of this structure is reinforced by the tale that tells of the imprint of the devil's footprint on the stone threshold of this mansion. One could once see some markings in the tread if one was so inclined. It was a large house on a high part of the island looking north along the west coast of Unst and into the crashing and thrashing of the Atlantic Ocean. The building could be seen from the distance as a dominant mass that loomed large and gloomy as if it were a spooky location in a Gothic novel.

The standing stone at Lund, Unst (looking north)

Standing stone at Lund looking east

Standing stone at Lund looking west

The mystery of this area is further enhanced by another reference that rolls off the tongue as easily as the reference to the house: ‘the standing stone at Lund’. Unst has several ancient standing stone sites, but only a few have significant stones that stand starkly tall and mark place rather than remain as skimpy, rubbly archaeological relics or map references that have to be sought out and studied to be comprehended. The stone at Lund is huge, but not elegantly high. It is a thick, tear-shaped mass with a blade-like profile that appears to allocate meaning to direction, seemingly marking an axis down a valley that opens to the western ocean: but what is it there for? Have the stresses of time made it lean or was this the original intention? No one knows.

This stone has what one might hope could be a twin at nearby Uyeasound that is more elegant, more spindly and thinner, looking like a pole rather than the chunky, massive piece of rock at Lund. Ponies use the Uyeasound stone as a scratching post. Its age is manifested in its covering of moss and lichen that add a ‘Middle Earth’ character to the object. The rock - no, these landmarks are called ‘stones’ even though they are nothing like pebbles or boulders - at Lund is less approachable. It stands in a small recess that pools with water, giving an intriguing sense of depth with the reflection of the stone disappearing deep into the sky-bright ground surround.

Standing stone, Uyeasound, Unst

Why are these stones there in these exact locations? Uyeasound stands tall and exposed; Lund squats proudly, distinctively in the folds of the landscape. Why? No one knows. Some guess that they are navigational aids, but this might be the rational mind taking control over mystery. Whether these stones have been carefully surveyed to assess their position in relation to geography and natural features as Professor Thom has done with Europe’s grand stone circles and lines, is not known. This needs to be done if alignments and relationships are to be better understood than mere assumptions and lazy guesses. No one knows if there is any relationship with geographical features here, or if there is any connection between these ‘stoned’ locations or any others in the vicinity.

House, Lund, Unst, 2006

Lund has a secrecy and profundity in its iconic presence. The road up to the house passes the standing stone at the burn. At the house, one can indeed see something fuzzy that could be called a cleft marking in the threshold, but there is no cold shiver echoing through the body as one enters the place. The recognition remains only an intellectual observation. Lund may be merely low walls now, but one could once walk through the place, feel its space and see the details, those of occupancy as well as the details of the making of the structure and its finishing. Seeing behind things is one joy that becomes available with the devastation of time when the markings of the making are laid bare. The house at Lund is a ruin. One could once see how grand this home used to be: how it had been extended; how it must have been beautifully finished internally; how grand it must have been in the landscape; how comfortable it must have been as a home. One could once read the forms, see the openings, pass through the doorways and understand what it might have been to experience the habitation: but this was only ‘once upon a time’ that was really not that long ago.

One used to be able to see this building almost complete as walls. There was always some sense of risk when entering the place, but the experience was worthwhile. The walls were getting a more and more dangerous lean with time that seemed to ease them dangerously sideways. Winds, storms, gales, snow, rain and lightning eventually fatigue most things on Shetland, such is their severity in this exposed landscape.

House, Lund, Unst, 2011

So the solution came, not to prop the walls to maintain the dignity of the wholeness of this place but, very sadly, to knock the walls down to a 'safe' height. Workplace health and safety, and budget savings seem to have won yet again. Why do councils and other authorities choose to demolish rather than to protect? The unanswered question latent in this decision is: what happened to all of the stones that were removed? There is no great pile nearby. Does one assume that these historic rocks might have been used as fill in the development of the new pier at Uyeasound? Dare one even entertain the thought? Dare one even consider the possibility that the need for solid fill might have been a part of the decision to knock the walls down to their current 1800 mm height? Shetland has a history of demolition of old buildings for stones. Nearly all of the huge brochs have gone. One only has to look at the broch at Mousa: see -  to understand the quantity of material that has been removed, relocated and encapsulated into modest croft houses and the dykes that crisscross the landscape. It seems that Mousa broch has survived just because of the difficulty in transporting the material from its island location.

So Lund stands castrated, neutered by those who were not prepared to make a real commitment to keep the historic house as a whole. Now one can never experience that raw sense of enclosure and occupation without some ad hoc guessing. There was always some conjecture involved in reading the walls, but this was better informed with space and place being more complete. It was always an interesting experience to ask: how did one live here; what did one enjoy? The views have not changed, nor has the building’s placement in the landscape or its more intimate relationship with the dyke enclosures nearby. The Internet site  tells of a ‘FARMSTEAD’ with a ‘WALLED GARDEN’ at Lund that now appears to have gone. As one strolls through the remnant walls, one ponders: is this the living room; the sitting room; bedrooms above; stair here; kitchen there; service door and courtyard? Oh, there are the barns; the byre and store just over there! The place could be realized as fact in experience - or so one thought.

June Owers' documentation of the house at Lund

It was some years later after the first visit to Lund that the records were discovered in the Unst Heritage Museum at Haroldswick in a collection of beautifully documented drawings. A survey of the deserted settlements on Unst had been carried out by June Owers. This local lady had sketched the ruins of Unst; measured them; photographed them; drawn their plans; recorded their place in the landscape; and most marvelously of all, with the use of census statistics, scheduled the people who had occupied these dwellings, both majestic and humble, as if nothing in life could be insignificant. From the most modest cottage to the grandest of homes like that at Lund, these ruins were documented with equal care and attention. Even the small parts were illustrated in precise and specific detail when interesting. These records in the Heritage Museum at Haroldswick need to be published. They are a wonderful study in habitation: Thames and Hudson, please! In amongst this set of intriguing documents, naive but rich like the dwellings and the people who occupied them, there was found the sheet that recorded the house at Lund - the sketch of the whole complete with the plans and the people who once lived there, their names, their occupations and the years.

The guesses were wrong. The plan was more condensed than anticipated, more compact; but why should things not be economical here, on Unst where materials are scarce? The stair was in an unexpected location, but the whole made eminent and practical sense. The layout was as efficient as that of the sheet itself. It reminded one of the drawings of Neville Lund’s partner, Peter Newell. The firm was originally known as Chambers and Ford; then Ford Hutton Newell; then Lund Hutton & Newell; then Lund Hutton Newell Black & Paulsen; then Lund Hutton Newell & Paulsen; then Lund Hutton Ryan Morton before eventually closing down. It was a firm with a great history. Peter Newell, a flamboyant and gregarious man, was able to get everything needed for a working drawing for a house onto one A1 sheet of tracing paper, all delineated in his beautifully bold, firm hand that loved soft pencil markings to sit dense as information, like a palimpsest. His earlier designs were all beautifully illustrated with the same audacious hand in a classic black and white Art Deco style. Peter Newell wrote various 'Sketchbooks' on the historical architecture of various regions in Australia. These were illustrated by Unk White and published by Rigby.

Cover of Brisbane Sketchbook showing Brisbane City Hall

After perusing the Owers’ drawings of Lund, one could return to meander through the castrated place to envisage things with more complete information. One hoped that June Owers was correct in her interpretations. Lund, so it seems, is destined to linger in time only as rocks and memory. Little things help us in this endeavour, such is their importance. Neville Lund is now only recollections, and a name in the front of his book award, an item discovered in a secondhand bookshop some years ago. Such is life; and awards too.

The house at Lund remains a relic, more so than ever; but it is a tidy relic, carefully made safe by bureaucratic minds. Sadly, only the lower plan is left to display the considered intent with everything clipped like a fresh ‘short back and sides’ haircut that always needs more than the cliché two weeks to settle down. This house at Lund has itself been settled down, but not its memories that still embody more than the hacker of the stones ever dreamed of. The entry is still substantially there; and one can remain entranced in the make-believe of what the framed views might have meant to an occupant. Mystery still lingers there if one gives it sufficient time to be manifest.

But things did not have to be like this. If the walls had been braced, Lund would have been able to stand tall and more complete so that one could still enjoy the scale, the detail; the elevations; and the silhouette. The sense of grandeur would have remained, for it was a high home on a wonderful, open site. We really need to care much more about our old things, large and small. They are just too easy to destroy, to discard. We lose so much that we love through the blindly dumb acts of rationalism. Those involved should have read Neville Lund’s Welsh blessing and dreamed with an intensity and care that could have allowed things to be otherwise. The sentiments are good, worthy. Sadly today they are seen as mere emotional ‘claptrap’ while our heritage is demolished, literally before our very eyes.

Then there is our World Heritage to consider and care for too – see:

The images have been posted here in the order that they were taken.

The Lund region, Unst 

The surprising south elevation opens to the sunlight with several large 'modern' openings.

This is the rubble from just one end wall. Imagine the mass of rock that must have been removed from this site.

The astonishing southern elevation with its large 'modern' glazed opening spaced so closely

 Old byres at Lund

The detail of the extension to the original house 

Lathes on battens over stone wall with fallen plaster

Rendered stone wall 

 Barn at Lund adjacent to house

The images have been posted here in the order that they were taken.

 Scratch coat below finished render

Rendered wall 

Lathe batten on stone wall 

 View north

View north on leaving the house at Lund

17 JANUARY 2015
This is an image of the house at Lund form the Shetland Museum and Archives collection of photographs:

24 December 2016
For the impact of the removal of the roof and walls on interior spaces, see: