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It’s a wrap

Photo: Jason Hawkes

A steel-framed iconic public artwork that surrounds an electrical substation in north London has been unveiled.

Brent Cross Town public artwork

Main client: Related Argent, Barnet Council
Architect: IF_DO
Main contractor: Galldris
Structural engineer: Arup
Steelwork contractor: Bourne Group
Steel tonnage: 100t

Located adjacent to the busy A406 North Circular at the junction with the M1 motorway, a 21m-high and 52m-long permanent artwork has been unveiled as part of the Brent Cross Town urban regeneration project.

Created by artist Lakwena and architects IF_DO, the steel-framed artwork that incorporates a colourful façade, wraps around an electrical substation creating a new landmark for north London. It is estimated that some six million people each year will see it from the road and the nearby rail links.

Brent Cross Town, which is being delivered in partnership by Related Argent and Barnet Council, is being designed to be a net zero carbon development by 2030, and investment in efficient new infrastructure is a key part of this.

The substation will supply electricity to all of Brent Cross Town, including the 6,700 new homes, offices and new retail and leisure spaces, as well as to the low-carbon district heating/cooling networks.

Thousands of rail passengers and road users will see the artwork everyday. Photo: John Sturrock

The artwork is formed with a series of CHS columns, up to 21m in length that are linked by box section members, the steel frame supports digitally-printed lenticular aluminium panels that create a kaleidoscopic visual effect to emphasis the idea of movement as viewers move around the structure.

The steel erection programme had to be meticulously planned as the site is very constrained and sits between a busy road and one of the main railway lines serving central London.

Bourne Rail & Special Projects Divisional Director Craig Galway, says: “It took five weeks to erect the steel frame and then a further nine weeks to install the panels. Each panel is connected to the frame via bracketry. They measure 500mm x 4.5m and because of the colour sequence each one is unique.”

The design team drew on influences as varied as Eadweard Muybridge’s motion studies and historic forms of roadside structures, such as billboards, funfairs and industrial sites that make use of a skeletal frame supporting a brightly coloured skin.

Each of the coloured panels are unique in order to complete artwork’s colour sequence.

Lakwena, who is known for her joyful technicolour murals and graphical text poetry, has applied her signature colour, pattern and language to the design. The inspirational statement “Here we come, Here we rise and shine” reflects the ambition to inspire and bring people together in the local community.

Lighting plays a key part in the design of the artwork and specialists Michael Grubb Studio designed the lighting scheme to be discreet and attract attention to the artwork during the day and at night. The lighting creates a halo around the façade’s wrap which filters down through the structure, allowing the light to fade away at lower level.

In addition to being a colourful and dynamic beacon for north London, the electrical substation and its wrap-around artwork are also notable for sustainable innovations. Project engineers, Arup, led the design team with a focus on minimising the environmental impact of the structures.

Putting circular economy principles into action, approximately 50% of the structural steelwork used for the artwork was salvaged from unused oil pipelines, reducing embodied carbon emissions by over 40%.

“As a founding member of the Climate Group SteelZero initiative, we are committed to minimising negative environmental impact and ensuring the projects we manage endorse our forward-thinking principles and practices. Steel currently delivers to a truly circular economy with its unique re-purpose and near total recyclability. We believe that structural steel will maintain its foremost position as the economic and effective construction material of choice,’ adds Mr Galway.

Nick Searl, Partner at Related Argent, says: “This amazing piece of public art, is set to become a great landmark for London in this highly visible location. It sets the tone for the wider Brent Cross Town neighbourhood and demonstrates our commitment to art, culture and low carbon development.”

The steel frame is formed with a series of CHS columns tied together by box sections. Photo: John Sturrock

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan says: “Lakwena has created an incredible artwork that brings together creativity and sustainability and will be enjoyed by millions of people. London is a world-class cultural capital and this major addition to our public realm in the heart of Brent Cross is another example of how we’re working together to build a better London for everyone.”

As well as creating a visually-pleasing landmark, the project has also brought back to life a piece of brownfield, ex-industrial land with the creation of a landscaped embankment.

Recently planted trees and a wildflower meadow provides a naturalistic setting to the artwork, as well as increasing site biodiversity, enhancing local wildlife corridors and tying in with the wider network of green infrastructure within the masterplan and surrounding area.

Summing up, Sarah Castle, Director at IF_DO, says: “It is rare to have the opportunity to work on a project of the scale and ambition of this, and to be able to realise it with such conceptual purity.

“Combining architecture, infrastructure and art, it has been a wonderfully collaborative process from the start, with IF_DO manipulating form and shape, and Lakwena exploring colour and poetry. The structure is inspired by movement: it is designed to be viewed both in motion by the millions that pass the site by train and by road, and to convey a sense of motion as it is viewed from across the neighbourhood.”

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