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Universal Hall(2003)

Buy at Townsends

Universal Hall

...and how it came to be by Liza Hollingshead

Universal Hall, pictured on the cover of the album, is the theatre of the Findhorn Community in north-east Scotland. It has hosted hundreds of events, conferences, artists and performances in its 30 year history, including many by Mike and The Waterboys. Long-time Findhorn resident Liza Hollingshead gives us the story of the Hall....

Universal Hall in Findhorn was built between 1974 and 1984. Thousands of people, all volunteers and many of them paying guests of the Findhorn Foundation, worked on it. Some people, after spending an afternoon there, were caught by the spell of the Hall and returned, sometimes for years, to put their energy into the creation of this unusual building.

A team of builders from all over the world showed up to break ground in July 1974. Lyle Schnadt from the USA headed the team with fellow Americans Richard Valeriano and Jim Pat Griffiths, and Jim Hill, a 21-year old boat builder from Ayr, Scotland. 1974 was a great summer in the north-east of Scotland; long sunny days that stretched late into the night in this far land of almost midnight sun. The whole Findhorn community was involved; when a huge load of block was delivered to build the walls, everyone turned out to unload it in a long human chain, singing and laughing as they passed the blocks along. By October 1974 all the concrete floors and the foundations were finished. That summer they poured 450 cubic yards of concrete and they had the concrete ring beam in place at first floor level.

By the end of the following summer the roof was on. The roof is a masterpiece of design and building skill; it was built on the floor to get the triangles and proportions exactly right, then taken all apart and rebuilt in the air. Two ring beams, one at the base and one at the top, hold the roof up with no central post. Each beam was burned and brushed by hand to create a marvellous rippled effect on the wood. All summer scaffolding held up the smaller top ring beam while the men put the other beams in place, each one measured to an exact centimetre. Then came the day when it was time to tighten the bolts on the top and bottom beams. Would it stand up alone ? Next morning when the builders arrived at work, the scaffolding stood free, swaying in the breeze. The roof held itself up. Incredible !

The first performance in the new Hall was the Missa de Notre Dame by Mauchaux on 23 December 1975. Work continued inside and out until 1984. In the meantime, the Hall was used for conferences, performances and Findhorn Community meetings of all kinds. Tiered ramps for seating were built, the seats covered by hand in purple wool cloth by community members. Hayden Stubbings, whose work hangs in the Tate Gallery, came to Findhorn to paint two huge murals in the auditorium. With his chainsaw, Tom Buhler carved a huge sculpture from a Monkey Puzzle Tree to stand in the far corner. Californian architect James Hubble designed the stunning stained glass windows for the entrance. Dieter Pfeffercorn spent two years of his life carving the stone walls on the outside. Even the actor Burt Lancaster worked on the Hall for a few hours on a brief visit to the community while making the film "Local Hero" !

Many of those who worked on Universal Hall experienced it as a great teacher. Masterbuilder Lyle Schnadt summed up his experience in 2002 :

"I didn't build the Hall. The Hall built me. It has been my teacher : it's taught me how to work with people, as a group experience. It's taught me how to recognise the life in the materials I'm working with, to see a consciousness in the form I'm building. The care and love that I put into the building affects the lives of the people who use it daily, and will do long after I am gone."

To visit the official Universal Hall site click here