London, power station becomes local icon after artistic makeover

The new Brent Cross Town electrical substation in London, within one of the largest urban redevelopment projects in Europe, has been wrapped in a giant and iridescent public artwork. 

A ‘wrap’ around the new electrical substation for Brent Cross Town, one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe, in London, becomes iconic in a place devoted to innovation. It’s a new 21-metre-high and 52-metre-long permanent public artwork, which at its highest point is taller than the Angel of the North, the contemporary sculpture by Antony Gormley, located in Gateshead (at 20 metres). The artwork, created by celebrated London-based artist Lakwena and architects IF_DO, titled Here we come, here we rise, and reflects the ambition to inspire and bring people together in the local community. It sits next to London’s A406 North Circular at the junction with the M1 motorway, and adjacent to both the Thameslink railway line that connects central London with the home counties north of the city, and the new Brent Cross West station, which is due to open in Autumn this year. It is estimated that some six million people each year will see it from the road and rail alone.

“The design takes inspiration from the movement of transport around the site, as well as Related Argent’s commitment to making sport and play a central feature of Brent Cross Town.” Sarah Castle, Director at IF_DO, said. “The structure draws on influences as different as Eadweard Muybridge’s motion photography and historic forms of roadside structures, such as billboards and funfairs that make use of a skeletal frame supporting a brightly coloured skin. The key pledges of the Brent Cross Town development highlight a commitment to play, inclusivity, sustainability and connectivity – all of these themes are expressed through a messaging approach which alludes to movement, togetherness, ambition and a sense of newness”.

The new Brent Cross Town electrical substation in London

The structure is comprised of four undulating bands and triangular-shaped “lenticular” panels that create a kaleidoscopic visual effect to emphasise the idea of movement as viewers move around the structure. “The project has been designed in-line with the low-carbon aspirations of the Brent Cross Town development”, Sarah Castle continued. “The substation embraces circular economy principles, with a primary structure made of reused steel taken from the oil industry. Throughout the design, care was taken to select materials that balance sustainability with durability and utility”. 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, 3 million sq ft of offices and new retail and leisure spaces, as well as to the low-carbon district heating/cooling networks operated by Swedish energy company Vattenfall. Brent Cross Town will source all electricity supplies within its control from 100% renewables sources. In addition to being a colourful and dynamic beacon for north London, the electrical substation is also notable for its sustainable innovations.  Global engineers, Arup, led the design team with a focus on minimising the environmental impact of the structure: circa 50% of the structural steel being salvaged from unused oil pipelines, reducing embodied carbon emissions by over 40%. The concrete used is a combination of low cement concrete and the new ‘Earth Friendly Concrete’ – a cement-free concrete. Using these alternative concrete mixes saves up to 33% and 70% of embodied carbon respectively compared to standard mixes. 

La nuova sottostazione elettrica di Brent Cross Town a Londra

Ben Glover, Associate Director, Waste and Energy Buildings Business Leader at Arup, added: “Brent Cross Town’s substation presented a unique opportunity to be part of a project which equally prioritises environmental, social and economic factors - driving sustainable development. By choosing materials based on their carbon impact, reusing materials and reducing waste, we’re proud to have met this challenge with circular economy principles and deliver a net-zero substation for the development.”

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. The project has also brought back to life a piece of brownfield, ex-industrial land with the creation of a newly landscaped embankment designed by Gillespies Landscape Architects. Newly planted trees and 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.

Sarah Castle, Director at IF_DO and London-based artist Lakwena, who created the artwork. On the opposite page, the visual impact of the project.

The launch of the new public artwork adds to the growing momentum behind Brent Cross Town with affordable, student and homes to buy all under construction, and the recent announcement that Sheffield Hallam will open its first campus outside of Sheffield at the new town. “Brent Cross Primary Substation demonstrates the opportunity created when infrastructure is treated with civic imagination to deliver positive social value outcomes. The result is a new landmark that will inspire and instil a sense of pride for the local community.” , Sarah Castle concluded.

“It would have been easy to take the more traditional route of enclosing the substation in a nondescript box and to miss the opportunity that is now so evident”, Nick Searl, Partner at Related Argent, commented. “Instead, we have demonstrated that even the most functional pieces of infrastructure can play an important role in defining place and lifting the spirits.”

DomusAir n. 8. Cover
DomusAir n. 8. Cover

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