2008, Attingham Park, UK         

How To Survive The Coming Bad Years

Soil, straw, water, timber, lime and ceramic pipes, 11 x 5.5 x 5.5 m

Commissioned by Meadow Arts for the group exhibition Give Me Shelter

In an ancient woodland at the core of Attingham Park’s vast four-thousand-acre estate appeared an immense clay structure that rose through the trees. Appearing both alien and primeval, How to survive the coming bad years was inspired by traditional rookeries found throughout the Middle East where, in return for shelter, the birds provide squab to eat and guano to fertilize the land on which food is cultivated. This imposing and mysterious work shows how the artists’ practice often has semi-fictional origins. In their 2009 novella Falling into Place, they offered a explanation for the building, as well as a description of its construction. The story tells of a family trying to survive after crash-landing a hot-air balloon in woods. As the balloon hits the ground, the narrator’s mother falls out and is killed by the impact. The rest of the family builds the tower around her body to protect it from the elements.

‘I started to make a mud shelter for her, so she would be comfy and dry. I rolled the mud and grass into balls and began to make a wall around her. By the time it was light, it was done. Then the others woke up and they helped to build the wall higher and wider.… It was now a tower really. We placed thick branches over the perches as scaffold and, as they went through the tower, we used them to climb up the middle too. Mud fell off all the time and soon mummy was buried.… When we finished, it stopped raining and the tower began to dry.

It was nice and cool inside and I could hear a gentle hum from the wind passing over the clay pipes. We moved in. Some cracks appeared quite soon, and when I walked far away from the tower I could see it was leaning to one side a little. But it felt very solid and stable when I was inside. Soon birds began to nest in the clay pipes and we would climb up the middle to collect their eggs. We made a hearth outside and never let the fire go out. At night we would sleep together in our tower-tomb on top of mummy and listen to the pigeons cooing.’

The huge lime-covered cob form, made on site with soil from a vast hole dug by hand by the artists and their team, suggested the vestige of an otherworldly civilization, or perhaps a post-apocalyptic future in which man and nature will need to find new ways to coexist in a harmonious and mutually beneficial way. Fittingly, the structure provided a nesting environment for local birdlife before disintegrating back into the hole from which it was dug. The ruins of the work can still be visited at Attingham Park having slowly crumbled into the ground.


‘We mixed the cob on a large tarp, rolling the soil, straw,
and sand into huge cigar-shaped sculptures before applying these by hand to the growing turd-shaped structure. When it was finished, I curled up inside and listened to the whistle from the opening at the top.’
Heather Peak

Photographers’ credits       

All images_ Ivan Morison

Love Me or Leave Me Alone        


Love Me or Leave Me Alone, The Very Public Art of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison presents a journey through the past decade and a half of the artists’ practice, with an emphasis on their pavilions, escape vehicles, and public artworks.  The book can be ordered from the publishers Art/Books
Press contact        

If you can’t find the information you are looking for you can contact the studio of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison here: studio@peakmorison.org