Down a quiet cul-de-sac in Botany, a roller door is wide open; the weather is unseasonably warm for winter. Inside, a handful of potters sit quietly, absorbed in their work; on a wheel or shaping a piece of clay on a large shared table. The sides of the garage are lined with shelves of ceramic bowls, mugs and sculptures in various states of finish. This is Claypool, a pottery studio and collective that moved this year from Erskineville.
Natalie Rosin is at a high table with a collection of off-white, minimal, yet playful, sculptures; rectangular shed-like structures with overhanging roofs, with circular or triangular windows. “These are little models of the Sol duc Cabin designed by Olson Kundig in [Washington National Park,] USA. It’s all steel, one box with all these parts that pull out – a shack, but done really well,” Rosin says.
The model is more like an homage to Sol duc Cabin. Rosin adds features, focuses on the form or chooses something important to her and accentuates it. “It’s always screwed up because clay shrinks. It’s never a 1:100 scale model of anything, it’s more like 1:83.4, or something like that,” she laughs.
For pieces such as these, Rosin will model it on the computer first and print out each piece to use as a stencil. “Some of the shapes are crazy and I want it exactly right. Which is silly, because it never turns out right – it always warps in the kiln.” There are matchstick-sized holes in the corners for Rosin to add steel poles to create stilts. “There are a lot of buildings that I want to model, but thin pieces of timber are quite hard to model in clay. My aesthetic is driven by what clay can do structurally.”
Rosin discovered she liked pottery when she chose it as an extra subject while completing her masters in architecture. After going through a homewares and then a jewellery phase (“a lot of people start off doing that”) she settled on architectural sculpture. Rosin works at a high-end residential firm.
In her work as an architect graduate, measurements have to be down to the millimetre and are constrained by budgets, the client, the space. The playful shapes she creates as an artist are also constrained by the medium of clay, but are more free. “At first it was really hard – I always wanted to use my ruler. But here, you don’t have to worry. If it’s a bit off, it doesn’t matter.”
Model making in architecture is a dying art, Rosin tells me. Once, large firms had in-house model-makers whose sole job it was to create them. “The material you use when you model will influence the building in the end. If you’re going to use balsa wood, the house will have the same aesthetic. It’s the same if you use a pencil or a pen. In that way, modelling with clay is quite form-driven.” These days, firms use computers to create models and send them off to be printed in 3D. “Soon it will just be appreciated for the art of the model, it won’t be used as a tool.”
Rosin’s other work in progress is a consignment by a friend working in another firm. “He asked me to make a model of a building his firm had designed. I chose my old building at UNSW [The Red Centre]. A lot of my friends hated it – architects always hate buildings they have to occupy because they always find things wrong with it,” Rosin says.