‘Free Tank: The retrospective view of the pathway’ is a permanent public artwork and architectural space set in a small sunken square on Bristol Harbourside.
The artwork was created in collaboration by renowned British artist Roger Hiorns, Stirling Prize-winning architects Witherford Watson Mann, curator Aldo Rinaldi, and Price & Myers.
Located on a part of the harbour that was once home to Bristol’s many glass furnaces, the ‘free tank’ was a protected parcel of land that ensured public access to the harbour’s waters by the general public.
Hiorn’s artwork commemorates that free public access with a pair monolithic sculptures set on a thick stone floor at the bottom of a staircase to the water’s edge.
The space was designed using a variety of different concrete casting techniques including pre-cast, shuttered, and poured, using specifically selected aggregates including Cornish and black basalt.
The sculptures are made from large black granite blocks, milled and polished off-site using computer-controlled machines to achieve the exact required profile. The two towers weigh about 16 tonnes and were made by S McConnell and Son in Northern Ireland, who also crafted the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.
The narrow base of each sculpted pillar might normally have compromised their stability. To mitigate any imbalance, they were designed so that stainless steel rods could be inserted into holes within the footings, and then tensioned to provide surreptitious reinforcement to the stone pillars. The stainless-steel rods are anchored into a reinforced concrete base formed with an exposed black basalt aggregate.
In-situ concrete walls and a precast concrete staircase provide a rough, brutalist surface in contrast with the smooth, polished stone of the two monoliths. These granite sculptures are designed to allow burning fires within them to recall the days of Bristol’s ‘Glass Wharf’ furnaces.