Architecture: The new pavement artists

Collaborations between architects and aesthetes are becoming more common. But there still has to be an element of chemistry.

Artists have long worked with architects to produce art for their new buildings - Broadcasting House, for instance, would be unthinkable without the Eric Gill sculpture over its entrance. But the status of the art work conceived for a particular setting has always been uncertain: stand-alone object or part of the fabric?

That status was cleared up last week with the decision by Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to return a Henry Moore relief to the building for which it was made. His decision has set an important precedent for site-specific art - although quite where it leaves the Elgin Marbles is anyone's guess - and is timely because recently there has been a growth in collaborative work between artists and architects.

In many ways the Glaswegian-born artist, Bruce McLean, is the forerunner of a new generation of artists who collaborate with architects not simply by providing a suitable work for a new building-sculpture for the foyer or painting for the boardroom - but by coming up with a concept for the building where architect and artist become partners in the creative process. "I want to be involved at the outset and not just as an add-on," he says.

McLean became involved with architects in a professional sense when he met Will Alsop in 1978 and they have worked together on real and fantasy projects since, including proposals for Railtrack's new station at Blackfriars Bridge in London.

But his connection to architecture is more deep rooted, even genetic - his father was an architect as is his son. So although McLean brings an artistic sensibility to a collaborative project, he has an architectural grounding. He has just finished a project with Alsop's former partner, John Lyall, at Tottenham Hale in north east London. Lyall says: "I enjoy working with Bruce because he is eminently practical and pragmatic. Some of his ideas may seem a bit obvious but they have a very direct public appeal. It's certainly not art for art's sake."

At Tottenham Hale, McLean and Lyall have come up with a new concourse and Underground station - schemes which complement the mainline station which McLean, Lyall and Alsop designed together in 1991. Lyall says it was a collaborative process: "We spent lots of Sundays at his studio brainstorming before editing them down and settling on the actual designs."

What they developed for the Tottenham Hale concourse are three separate pieces: a 16m-high lit beacon (the Tower of Time), a fountain (the Bridge of Signs) and some paving, which incorporates writing by local children (the Path of the People). "There are lots of people at Tottenham Hale waiting for buses, trains and at the traffic lights and that can be a bit boring. The idea was to give them something fun to look at but not too obvious. So it takes time to work out that the fountain's a clock and more time to work out what time it is," says Lyall.

Like McLean, and perhaps influenced by him, he is very clear about how collaborations work most effectively: "The way I feel about the best collaborations is that we start with a blank sheet of paper and work together in free form and what results is something which neither would have thought of separately. I like working with artists because they have a different eye and way of thinking. But some collaborations don't work if the chemistry isn't there or it is one-sided."

Lyall is also critical of other architects who aren't keen on getting involved: "Some architects, even some very famous architects, are a bit strange about involving artists on their projects, believing they are the only creative talent, which is very arrogant and also missing an opportunity by being unnecessarily neurotic about the ownership of creative ideas." But there are enough architects around who are enthusiastic about the possibilities offered - aside from Alsop and Lyall, McLean alone has worked with David Chipperfield in Bristol and Tokyo and is currently designing a new foreshore for Bridlington with Rayner Banham.

What started for McLean and Alsop as an experiment and a bit of fun has since been formalised and become more mainstream, McLean suggests: "Will and I started in a real way. We weren't put together as a lottery project and were doing it before all that public arts stuff."

Various organisations now promote artist/architect collaborations, including the Royal Society of Arts with its Art for Architecture programme and Birmingham City Council which has a "per cent for art" initiative, whereby one per cent of a new building's total cost is spent on an art work for it.

One product of this initiative is the city's new incinerator at Tyseley, which burns household waste and generates electricity from the heat produced. The incinerator, which has an 85m-high chimney, was designed by Derby architects Faulks Perry Culley and Rech and the London-based artist Martin Richman. The council's suggestion for involving an artist was enthusiastically taken up by the client and the architects, according to project architect Ray Perry. The only problem was deciding on a suitable art form.

"We felt that a sculpture, fountain or painting would be inappropriate for what is a private building on a very public site and came up instead with the idea of external lighting," he says. Having decided on the appropriate form of art for their "industrial cathedral", the architects set about trying to find a suitable artist. They approached the Public Art Commissions Agency, which arranged a slide show of 30 artists who work with light. From that, they selected six who were given a set of plans for the new building and asked to present their ideas at an interview. Richman was picked, according to Perry, because he was "on the right wave-length for the type of building we had".

Getting the right match of architect and artist is absolutely crucial to the success of the project, according to Vivien Lovell, who is the director of the Public Art Commissions Agency. It is a charitable consultancy which aims to bring collaborative work to a wider audience than that which visits art galleries. Accordingly, it organises installations, temporary schemes and acts as a matchmaker for permanent building projects.

"Collaboration is becoming extremely fashionable but it is nevertheless a process full of pitfalls - sometimes there is too much territorial jealousy involved and sometimes the relationship just implodes," she says.

"Collaboration requires an enormous amount of generosity and time. The artists have to be involved from early on, it is undesirable to stick the art on at the end, that hardly ever works," she says.

In the case of Tyseley, Ray Perry had the necessary amount of generosity to allow Richman's involvement with the project to cause a number of fundamental changes to the external appearance of the incinerator, and that was before he set to work on coming up with a lighting programme for it - a dramatic moving light show.

"Martin introduced the idea of red - to highlight the function of the building and its heat - so we changed the yellow cladding to red. He also introduced areas of translucent and transparent cladding to show the internal lighting," says Perry.

Although Richman had worked with architects on projects in the past, Tyseley was the first time he had worked on a building from scratch and had such a large input into its final appearance. Although enthusiastic about the outcome, he does have reservations about the process of achieving it.

"The problem with working in the public realm as an artist is that you have an idea and don't see it realized for three or four years. There's months and months of bureaucracy to get through, city councils, engineers, administrators and architects to deal with. It's all a long way from the interior life of a studio practice," he says.

He has overcome any qualms about public art projects and is now working on two other collaborative schemes with architects in Hackney and Bristol. In Hackney he is about to install a tube of light which changes colour according to wind intensity on the front of a new media centre, while in Bristol he has designed some beacons of light for that city's millennial celebrations.

The people of Birmingham seem pleased with the outcome: "I haven't heard anything from anywhere which is negative, it's all been favourable," says Perry. "And that's something of a first because we architects are used to getting kicked."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born