Turner’s Tectonic Triage!

It has been said, that Turner ’s depiction of The High Street in Oxford is so architecturally accurate that the buildings could be rebuilt using his image alone…………..Let’s find out!


In this week’s session, the year 9s were lucky to be able to work with a local artist, Jon Lockhart. Jon set his ‘architects’ the job of recreating Turners painting out of just cardboard with a two-hour deadline!

DSC_0360Three smaller groups were given the task to create a specific section/ building from the High Street. These had to be at a specific scale so the Year 9s had to work out the perspective of the painting to be able to get the scale of the buildings. Part way through Jon helped the group by teaching them how to use gum strips to make their models look better and which helped to make the buildings look as realistic as in the painting.

Although many of the Year 9s found it hard to get the scale of their models correct, they also said that this was their favourite session of the entire project because it was ‘the most creative and hands-on’. They also liked working in groups and developing team working skills. The final result was amazing – we thought Turner would have been impressed!

Watch ‘Building the High Street’ on Youtube

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High Street of the Future by Malgorzata Modrzejewska (Yr 12)

3D printed buildingsThe session began with a talk about how architects are using 3D printing to design many buildings around us, which have peculiar shapes and structures. These are impossible to design without Computer Aided Design (CAD). Architectural models can then be 3D printed, which is a massive improvement within the industry.

Our expert, Chris, said, “The way in which the 3D printer works isn’t actually that complex. It creates objects through many layers of plastic. It has a roll of plastic at the back, a tube in which the plastic travels to the beak which is heated up to 220 degrees, which then squirts out tiny drops of plastic in layers. Our 3D printer is precise to the size of human hair, there are some which are precise to the 1/5th of the human hair and can print out thousands of colours; however their cost is about £17 000.”

3D printer in actionFollowing this, small groups of students got the chance to see the 3D printer Chris had brought with him in action. They learnt about how they were already improving peoples lives through 3D printing medical equipment such as heart or jaw models. They also discovered ideas about how it will be important in the future – perhaps even 3D printing full scale buildings!


Meanwhile, students were set the challenge of redesigning the High Street of the future. You’re the designer. Let your imagination run wild!”

Students of Oxford Spires Academy put a lot of thought into their future High Street. Surprisingly many  said they love the current “good, old High Street”; deciding that Oxford wouldn’t be Oxford without “the buildings from sandstone”.One of the students said he loved the old aesthetics of the High Street, which reminds him of the past. In many designs, students left older buildings as a tribute to the old city, but made buildings around them modern.

Designing the High Street of the futureWhen asked about ways of improving High Street answers included “more green spots, streets under ground so the cars wouldn’t make that much noise, solar panels to reduce the costs for many shops and some more facilities for leisure and entertainment.”

The majority of the students said that everything was interesting about the project so far, but if they were to pick one thing that appealed most, it would definitely have to be the 3D printer.

The session concluded with students proud with their own work, and surprised at the creativity of their peers. They were very colourful and creative, with the uses of a range of materials.

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Intro to 3D Design by Kaylum Smith (Yr 12)

In this session we were looking at ways of reconstructing the High Street. Last session Chris from I Can Make took pictures with a camera on a robotic tripod from the island in the middle of the road. He showed us how this had enabled him to take complicated images in just a few minutes – in Turner’s day this would have taken months!

In pairs we had to touch our partners finger tip. It was easy with both eyes open, but with one covered it was difficult - this is because you need both eyes to see depth.

In pairs we had to touch our partners finger tip. It was easy with both eyes open, but with one covered it was difficult – this is because you need both eyes to see depth.

This lead on to a discussion about how Turner had played around with the perspective of the High Street.

We were also able to look at motion capture technology to see how taking pictures of the same building from different angles can build up a 3D image.

We then experimented with 3 activities:



2016-06-07 14.40.57 copy1. 123d Catch

This app allows you to take 40-70 photos and it renders it together so you are able to move around an object similar to the motion capture technology. We did this bit in an open area of the gallery, to create our own 3D art sculptures.


Perspective exercise2.  Tracing the High Street

For this activity we went to the gallery to see Turner’s work. We were given a smaller picture of the High St, tracing paper and a ruler to draw orthogonal lines. We could see that Turner had moved buildings meaning there was no consistent line of depth and no central vanishing point.


CAD with Chris Thorpe3. 3D view of the High Street

Using a programme on Chris’ laptop we were able to outline all the elements of a shop on the High Street and add depth, width and height to create a 3D model which can later be used to print a model.

To conclude the session we looked at 3D scans and how they can be used to produce / print toys, parts, miniature buildings. More about this soon.



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Walking the High Street by Kaylum Smith (Yr 12)

On a lovely sunny Tuesday afternoon, we all set out and had a good look at the High Street and how it has developed since Turner painted it in 1810. Watch the short film I posted about this on YouTube below.

DSC_0085_w800h532We split into two groups and walked up each side of the Street, looking at the architecture and how it developed the image of Oxford over the last 206 years. We documented this through photography, and as a group discussed how Turner had manipulated the composition to fit his idea of the High Street and the methods he used, in order to include as much of Oxford’s High Street as possible. While looking at the High Street from what we assumed would have been the area he would have painted it from we could see that in reality the view did not fit, due to the High Street curving as it got further up the road. Also, we noticed we could not see Carfax Tower, even though Turner had painted it in the background of his work.

After this we were lucky enough to be given a tour of Queen’s College, where we were shown around by two second year students who took us around the grounds. We were able to see the library but due to the upcoming exam season we were asked to be very quiet. However, this didn’t stop us from admiring the amazing ceilings and art it had to offer. We were then taken through the courtyard and across to the Common Rooms where the students are able to relax or do work as they please. We were also given the opportunity to visit the dining hall (which had been graced by the presence of celebrities like Rowan Atkinson) and according to our guides “serves some of the best food in Oxford, and at a good price”

DSC_0110_w800h532This amazing experience gave us the opportunity to view the amazing grounds and find out a small part of the history of the College. These experiences our students will carry through to the next session where they will be looking at creating their own architecture, building models of their new streetscape.



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Capturing the High Street by Clare Cory (Ashmolean)

‘I hadn’t realised how much Turner had altered it from how it really is’ (Yr 9)

On Tuesday we met to compare Turner’s painting with the High Street of today. As we positioned ourselves by the door shown in the far left of the painting, we were surprised to find how much artistic license Turner had used. We couldn’t see most of the buildings Turner showed from this viewpoint! It seemed that the whole right hand side of the street had been (clicked and) dragged into view.

We were very aware of the contrast in street level activity as bikes and buses whooshed past us. Chris positioned himself precariously in the central island of the road to use a 360 camera to capture the view today…

The students took photographs of shops, colleges and churches from unusual viewpoints. They focused on (hidden) architectural features and details they had never noticed before: gargoyles, hidden animals, carved doorways and leaded windows. Students also recorded the sky and clouds which were remarkably similar to the painting. We took special notice of number 115, today this is ‘Hobbs’ but was once the shop of James Wyatt who commissioned the painting.

DSC_0100_w800h532A highlight was a behind the scenes tour of The Queen’s College, organised by Access Officer Harriet Rudden. We were fascinated to see the ‘quads’ interiors of the chapel, refectory, junior common room and the library complete with architectural drawings and models for a future building project. It gave us all a fascinating insight into student life behind the walls of the High Street.

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Introducing Turner’s, ‘The High Street, Oxford’ by Helen Ward (Ashmolean)

It was brilliant to welcome Year 9 students from Oxford Spires Academy to the Museum on Tuesday 17 May. The focus of this session was the painting itself and JMW Turner.

A sketching activity, designed to encourage close observation revealed that Turner’s ‘The High Street, Oxford’ is ‘full of details’. When prompted to imagine noises and smells one student volunteered, ‘That smell of wet concrete like when it rains’.

Turner quiz

Turner quiz

Students went on to ponder whether, James Wyatt the Oxford printmaker who commissioned Turner was pleased with the work. ‘I don’t know how anybody could be disappointed with a painting like that’ commented one student. In fact Wyatt was so delighted with the painting he gave Turner some game and sausages on top of his 100 guineas fee!



The group then got to put their questions to curator, Colin Harrison. These covered everything from why and how Turner painted Oxford High Street and how long it may have taken (probably 2-3 months) through to Turner’s own life. We discovered that Turner lived in London but visited Oxford because he had relatives in the area. Colin was also quizzed about working at the Museum, ‘What do you do and do you like your job?’ (he does!)

Viewing Turner’s watercolours in the Print Room with Dr Caroline Palmer

Viewing Turner’s watercolours in the Print Room

Finally, students  enjoyed the special opportunity to look at some of Turner’s watercolours in the hushed atmosphere of the Print Room, surrounded by the aroma of antique books and prints. Dr Caroline Palmer welcomed the group, showing  us some of Turner’s watercolours of local scenes, created for the Oxford Almanac, a yearly calendar (published by OUP).

Alongside the paintings, students also saw some amazing 3D interpretations of Oxford buildings created in fine metals and clay by local artists Vicki Ambery-Smith and Hugh Colvin. Students photographed them to compare the effect of 2D and 3D representations of the city. More of this to follow in the sessions to come….

Students then got creative, using PicCollage to create montages about Turner. Some fantastic work was created that will contribute towards Discover Arts Awards.

Nadia's Pic Collage

Nadia’s Pic Collage

Libby's Pic Collage

Libby’s Pic Collage










Next week: we will be walking the High Street to compare the view today with the one that Turner painted. A special highlight will be our behind the scenes tour of The Queen’s College and a chance to see what is hiding behind those sandstone walls…


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Introduction to the project by Thea Neville (Yr 12)

In the first session, the year 9s were given a puzzle. The students enjoyed trying to figure out how their picture pieces went together – finally discovering it was Turner’s View of the High Street, Oxford times 2!

Piecing the High Street together Afterwards, the group were then asked a series of questions about the painting and art in general. The questions got the students to think about what art meant to them, how art has changed and also what the image that Turner had created could mean to them.

What is art?
‘Creative being’, ‘Expressing yourself’, ‘Originality’, ‘Imagination’, ‘Non-judgement’, ‘Sharing’, ‘Everything is art’, ‘Memory’, ‘New ideas’

What is your first impression of the painting?
‘Old’, ‘Home’, ‘Photograph’, ‘Dull/ plain’, ‘Rustic’, ‘Detailed’, ‘Vintage’, ‘Oxford’, ‘Not like today’.

We discussed the tools that Turner would have available to him if he were creating this work today, and talked about photography, video, 3D printing and 360 film.

Through these sessions, the year 9s are going to look at the High Street past, present and future through a range of media.

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