The Bright Lights Of Lewisham

Renaissance developer, Barratt Homes and artist, Martin Richman, joined heads to create a huge fascia design for the energy centre powering the housing development at Loampit Vale, Lewisham, and asked us to be the force behind fabricating and installing it.

What’s all the fuss we hear you say? Well, as well as heating everyone’s homes and the on site leisure centre, the energy centre would supply excess electricity to the National Grid, and use the revenue to offset the cost of producing heat. Once fully operational, it was expected that carbon emissions (caused by traditional gas heating) would reduce by over 30%. Celebrating all of this with large scale architectural artwork was part of a cultural strategy for Barratt Homes, as the developer sought to create a stronger identity for Lewisham, improve its public spaces and encourage pedestrian use.

That’s where Martin came in. The artist is well known for his empathy towards the everyday spaces people occupy, and demonstrates an incredible understanding of the ephemeral qualities of light – a characteristic that’s especially true in urban spaces. He skilfully plays with any surfaces that are to hand, and in this case, we worked on everything from bricks and vent grilles to large 4 metre glass panels.

This was not our first time collaborating with Martin and he asked for our help in putting forward a proposal for an exterior design showing how the power produced for the building would be used. His artwork depicted giant glowing lightbulbs, spinning discs and pipelines of electricity. It would cover the outer surface area of the whole ground floor, including eight windows split across four panels, as well as the metal louvered shutters of the outdoor storage units. It still amazes us how our journey on this project started by producing small sample panels of glass for his presentation, and ended with making his vision a 35 metre reality!

We worked from the inside-out, carefully hand applying graphics to each window over the course of several weeks. Armed with a colourful array of 3 metre long vinyl, we used translucent and opaque films to translate Martin’s theme into back-lit windows. Based in a busy, gritty, dusty and cold construction site, we set off to apply hardy vinyl to the exterior and overcame some pretty tough work conditions with tradesmen everywhere. Many cups of builders tea were consumed. Finally there was paintwork and a sprawling system of coloured pipework that needed to be screwed flat into the building fabric to ensure it couldn’t be used to climb up, and voila! We were done.

Window with bright and colourful cut vinyl design of a light bulb

Vibrant as ever, this installation still beams into the night, both standing out from and fusing in with the South London buzz. Richman says it ‘creates a lively sense of place’ and it has indeed won us commissions from those who have simply gone past it and seen it.