The University of the Arts offered another week-long Local Collections course last summer. We explored STEM to STEAM: Connecting the Arts to STEM and Local Collections. One of the several local collections we visited was Fonthill Castle. Fonthill is an incredible 44-room house built by Henry Mercer to house his extensive collection of tiles and prints.
Fonthill is fascinating not only as an aethetic experience, and an expression of one man's vision, but as a technological wonder. The house is made from poured-in-place concrete. You may know that concrete has been used as a building material since the Classical era. Romans used it extensively to create structures that were strong and complex. Technological changes, incuding the invention of Portland Cement in 1824, allowed cement to be developed into a building material that was less labor-intensive than the andient Roman methods.
Thomas Edison found that his Edison Ore-Milling company produced large quantities of waste sand. He had been selling this sand to concrete companies, but in 1899 started his own concrete business. He started experimenting with domestic applications for poured concrete, including building a garage and gardener's cottage on the grounds of his mansion in 1908. He had hoped that concrete homes would take off (and that he could supply the concrete!) but sadly, it never really did.
Mercer started building his home the same year Edison had his structures built. However, Mercer did not complete his work until 1912. His home is filled with built-in concrete furniture, and much of his collection of ceramics was enbedded in the concrete.
We chose Fonthill for our STEM to STEAM class as an example of techonogy and artistic vision coming together. I am looking forward to learning more during our visit to this extraordinary site.