Electric light works

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Electric Wharf, Coventry

Section One

Approach and concepts

  1. Introduction

  2. Site Analysis/Comment

  3. Programme Aims

  4. Commissioning Strands

  5. Artist’s commissions

Section Two
Commissioning process and supporting notes

  1. Notes on Commissioning

  2. Methods & Criteria for Artist Selection

  3. Selection

  4. Note on Artist/Architect Collaborations

  5. Note on Lighting

  6. Note on Bridges and the Bridge Location

  7. Selection Criteria

  8. Artist-in-Residence

Section One

Approaches and Concepts

  1. Introduction to the concepts

Electric Light Works

a public art programme for the development of Electric Wharf in Coventry.
Following site visits and briefing meetings with principals from Complex Development Projects and architects Bryant Priest Newman, this document frames the public art opportunities as three overlapping artist and architect collaborations and outlines the potential for a short programme of artist residencies.
Electric Light Works is built on key texts or phrases on the themes of:
• light/water [thesaurus]

• electric/electrify [thesaurus]

• the nature of bridges [Heidegger].
These texts and phrases reflect the exceptional development at Electric Wharf, Coventry – connecting the characteristics and specificity of this particular site to Complex Development Projects’ ambition for a vibrant mixed use environment of exemplary design, and Bryant Priest Newman’s architectural agenda.


gleam, glare,

glow, glint,


play of light,

flush, flash,

dispersion, diffraction,

sparkling, spangle,

reflection, refraction,






…amaze, animate,

astonish, astound,


take one’s breath away…

One side

is set off


the other

by the

To be sure,

the bridge

is a thing

of its own

A bridge


a new sense

of place

as well as


an existing one.

  1. Site Analysis/Comment

2.1 Site as Landmark
The site of the former power station off Sandy Lane is slightly elevated with aspects that are clearly visible when driving north out of Coventry city centre.
The decision to locate the power station on this part of the ancient Steeple Fields (1887 field number 334) was based on the need for plentiful supplies of water and coal – both available because of the Coventry Canal and Widdrington Siding. The site has a 400 metre canal frontage.
As the Coventry Canal (1768) pre-dates the development of the Electric Light Works (1891), there has always been a need to ‘bridge back’ towards the city centre to allow movement of people, electric power and water.
Over the years there has been a number of bridge structures: 1906 no bridge structures; 1915 one footbridge; 1925 two footbridges; 1937 one footbridge and three other bridge structures (two of which still remain).
There is significant opportunity to develop the landmark characteristics of the site, notably by creating
A. a skyline flourish of artist lighting and commissioned works from Block D façade through the proposed glazed insert to the roof and façade and up into the existing radio mast;
B. a canal side flourish of works that highlight and maximise the importance of the canal its physical boundaries and the and bridge structures.
2.2 Local Landmark
The site entrance is set back from Sandy Lane by some 25 plus metres. To ensure a level of presence appropriate to the ambitions of the scheme, the entrance needs to be pulled forward into the junction of Sandy Lane, Ellys Road and Widdrington Road. Besides making the entrance to Electric Wharf obvious, this is also an opportunity to knit together and improve the ‘remainder’ horizontal and vertical surfaces of neighbouring buildings.
2.3 Spaces & Passages
The Electric Wharf scheme provides a new pedestrian link from Sandy Lane to the canal. This is a significant initiative. Opening up the canal to its local residential communities rebuilds the fractured relationship between local people and local amenity and sets a level of good practice for other future developments along the canal corridor.
There is an opportunity for an artist to establish linkages playing with the dominant architecture and spaces within this route to create a dynamic and interesting route for residents and visitors alike.
This journey from main entrance to canal links is further developed through exploration of the wider public/ private spaces that exist at the site. Electric Wharf comprises a mix of gated public and private spaces and passages which visually or physically connect to the canal corridor. For examples two semi private gardens have views on the canal that should be maximised.

  1. Programme Aims

The aims of the ELECTRIC LIGHT WORKS public art programme are:

• to simply knit together separate site components;

• to frame the site in its wider urban context;

• to reveal or locate the extraordinary in an exceptional development.

This document provides the framework for public art interventions which:

• build on the landmark qualities of the site, in relationship to the city centre and canal corridor;

• connect the site to the canal corridor and residential and industrial neighbourhood;

• create positive environments for shared public open spaces.

  1. Commissioning Strands – Priorities

The first commission opportunity will be the appointment of a lead artist who will be appointed to work with the principle architect to develop the vision for the overall site and in doing so will consider the following priorities within their thinking. Further commissions will be offered once a phase of work with the lead design team has been concluded in the early part of 2002.

1. Skyline Flourish - lighting and landmarking
Enhancing Block D’s presence on the city skyline, particularly in respect to the views to Electric Wharf on leaving the city centre along the Foleshill Road. This involves lighting the existing radio mast; developing a lighting programme for the architectural glazed insert in Block D’s south-west facade and roof; and maximising the play of daylight on this facade.
2. Canalside Flourish
Creating a significant canal frontage through the new bridge structure; developing the relationship between the new bridge and existing bridge structures (if retained); lighting the transformers; and lighting the two garden areas on either side of Block E.
3. From X (the entrance area) to Y (the Bridge) and predicting Z (the Depot)

(this route can become known as the granny walk)
Improving the Sandy Lane Entrance (point X); connecting this to the new bridge (point Y); and predicting a continued journey to a point Z on the current Depot site.
This creates a new pedestrian walk identified by visual linkages (colour, form and materials, including soft landscaping) between the bridge(s); the new gate structures separating public and private spaces; the proposed off-set gateway entrance; and treatments to the horizontal and vertical surfaces at the site’s interface with Sandy Lane.
4. Connecting X to Block D

Developing the view into Electric Wharf by connecting the Sandy Lane entrance (point X) to Block D. This to be achieved by echoing the radio mast as a stand alone lighting column at Sandy Lane; and lighting the mesh wall to Block A.

5. Artist’s commissions
Three main commissions are proposed and these will be implemented in a phased manner as the physical requirements and opportunities are made clear through an artist / architectural collaboration.
Artist A therefore will be a lead artist appointed to review the entire site with architect within the context of the commissioning priorities noted above.
A further two commission opportunities are proposed including a lighting artist who will consider the nightime animation of the site and particularly the land marking requirements.
Each artist project will be developed individually and each brief developed with it own particular objectives, limitation and opportunities.

Section Two

Commissioning Processes and supporting Notes

  1. Notes on Commissioning

Many factors contribute to the success of a public art programme – not least its commissioning models. There are a number of standard commissioning strategies used to connect an artist to a public art commission: open submission; limited submission; direct invitation; artist initiative; and direct purchase or loan agreement.

Artist involvement should always be at the earliest possible design stage for each commission to ensure that appropriate levels of consultation and integration with other aspects of the design and construction programme are achieved. Given the time table for Electric Wharf, it is proposed that artist appointment is by a form of direct invitation only, following shortlisting and interview. Direct invitation is based on previous experience of an artist’s work or approach.
At Electric Wharf, artists will be invited to work with the architect as part of the wider design team process or to undertake a short residency. For artist/architect commissions, it is essential that the project team meets with the identified artists in advance of appointments being made. These meetings are crucial to reviewing experience; exploring approaches, boundaries; confirming interest; and agreeing opportunities, constraints and availability.

  1. Selection'>Methods & Criteria for Artist Selection

The matching of an artist to a site is one of the most difficult responsibilities for any public art commissioning programme. For the ELECTRIC LIGHT WORKS public art programme, the goals of artist selection are threefold: to select the artist who will respond best to the distinctive characteristics of the site within the overall aims and objectives of this programme; to seek quality and integrity in the artwork and in the processes by which the artwork will be realised; to attempt to ensure durability of design and materials; minimum maintenance requirements and maximum resistance to vandalism.

Identifying the right artist will also require proper consideration of the implications of budget and timescale on: whether the commission requires an artist with previous experience, or whether the commission provides an opportunity for a less-experienced artist; the geographic restrictions of an artist’s availability; the degree to which a design team or residency approach is appropriate; the level of time, people and resources available to supporting the artist post appointment.

  1. Selection

3.1 Selection Team

The Selection Team should comprise Complex Development Projects’ principals and advisers; Bryant Priest Newman as the project architects and where appropriate relevant stakeholders.

3.2 Selection Tasks

The commissioning process will involve the following tasks: agreement of funding levels and/or allowances against outcomes; preparation of briefing and contextual information, to include: budget; timetable; architect drawings; site plans and photographs; a statement of opportunities and constraints; responses to requests for further information and site visits; coordination of the selection and decision making processes, including negotiation and agreement of contractual details.

Once an artist is commissioned, the initial commission brief becomes the starting point for revisiting the processes of collaboration. The brief will need to be developed further, the commission mapped, its context agreed, and design processes established.

  1. Notes on Artist/Architect Collaborations

Collaborations between artists and architects, including appointments to design teams, can either be very successful or absolutely disastrous. Success depends on the intangibles of personality types and the enjoyment of shared creative process, as well as the more formal setting of boundaries and responsibilities.

It will be essential that as soon as possible the architect and appointed artist(s) agree the following broad principles (used successfully in the USA), set any necessary boundaries and confirm appropriate procedures:
• all members enter into the collaboration clear on the purpose of, and committed to the idea of, working collaboratively;
• the contributions and roles of all members are considered equal, although the realities of professional liabilities or legal responsibilities for decisions taken should not be overlooked;
• all members work to establish genuine interest in the contributions of other Design Team members.

  1. Notes on Lighting

Creative, interactive and programmable lighting for external areas and buildings at Electric Wharf will enhance the sense of place.

The use of lighting technologies will range from standard lighting provision to interactive or creative interventions. This could include standard floods, fibre optic lighting systems, LED lighting, cathode tubing. Equally the proposals from artists may include projection of moving images to more experimental materials such as light wire and woven fibre optic materials - especially in the area of Block A and the mesh structure. It is important from the outset to address the practical implications, including costs, against the site specific impact of lighting and new media technologies.
The quality of collaborative approach between artists and the project’s M&E consultant is critical to the success of these commission opportunities. Engineers will ultimately specify the electrical infrastructure to support any lighting proposals, and must be willing to collaborate with the commissioned artists.
It is hoped an artist will work with the M&E engineer to influence the design and approach to the standard lighting requirements as well as some creative installations. In some cases this may be simply require consulting with the artist on choice of lighting columns and bollards.
It is unlikely that moving image projection will be used as a permanent solution, although it should not be excluded if the technical implications can be effectively overcome. Existing projection technologies, including video, DVD or data projection can not be controlled by a timer – switching on and off requires human intervention. It is not inconceivable that a work by an artist is developed to be activated by site management on certain days of the week or at agreed events or special occasions.
Some of these technologies can be high in initial capital cost but extraordinarily low in on-going running costs. All lighting, though, has maintenance implications and requires effective ventilation and housing for units and luminaries. The artist will be expected to consider this and calculate the annual running costs of any scheme with the M&E consultant to ensure maintenance requirements are fully developed and become part of the site standard maintenance regime.

  1. Notes on Bridges and Bridge Location

The architectural agenda can be characterised as making imaginative and innovative interventions into the common sense or common place vernacular of the existing site – of locating the new adjacent to, or in close conjunction with, the old. This is a sympathetic revitalisation of the unique qualities of ‘site’ and ‘place’.

The removal of the existing cable-carrying bridge structures with a single, multi-function (people, power and water) bridge seems to contradict this architectural agenda. It may also limit the potential ‘wow-factor’ of the new pedestrian bridge – a situation where the opportunity to realise new and visionary form becomes diluted by functional pragmatics.
It may be more in keeping with the architectural agenda to retain and improve the existing cable-carrying structures and link these, through colour and lighting, to the existing transformers/substations to the side of Block G as a simple expression of ‘site function’. This statement of site function would then provide a common sense/place backdrop against which the design of the new pedestrian bridge could be undertaken with real ambition.
The new bridge could become a significant new focus along the canal corridor. A “thing of its own kind”, a destination in its own right. How the bridge lands on either side of the canal is both a design issue and an issue of designing the right ‘situation’ in terms of user reward and sense of safety.
The bridge “establishes a new sense of place” and how this place is constructed socially is critical to the successful canal corridor interface between Electric Wharf and the existing Depot site. Is it a place you want to go to for a perfect moment with a good cup of coffee on your way to somewhere else, or is it a place to avoid at all costs because it goes nowhere and might put you in danger?
The successful design of both sides of the bridge is as important as designing the structure linking the two sides. This may mean putting down markers for what happens on the current Depot site, and explains why consideration of a possible point Z has to be part of the design agenda for points X and Y.

  1. Selection Criteria

For these commissions, the appointed artists will have demonstrable and extensive experience of working collaboratively with architects, engineers, lighting designers, landscape architects

Specific Criteria – Lead Artists

• a real interest in how the whole site is developed, particularly in terms of architectural issues and space usage;

• an ability to address and develop ideas through a wide range of materials;

• a willingness to work with manufacturers and other specialists to assess the appropriateness of their ideas.

Specific Criteria – Lighting commission

• experience of researching, working and developing a diversity of three dimensional works utilising lighting technologies;

• creative and innovative ideas;

• awareness of the technical and long term implications of their work.

Specific Criteria – interactive commission opportunities

• an interest in interactive / programmed lighting and experimental technologies;

• an interest in the creation of special environments and interesting journeys;

• an interest in how people make use of space and place during the daytime and nighttime.

  1. Artist – in – Residence

Charles Gallagher: Strategies & Tactics
"The tactic is a mode of action determined by not having a place of one's own, while the strategy is a mode of action specific to regimes of place"
Michael de Certeau: The Practice of Everyday Life 1984
My recent work has been involved with charting and documenting remaindered spaces that have been occurring in the ongoing deconstruction / reconstruction of Coventry. Places of past work have been a central focus in this visual examination, largely on the sites of Matrix Churchill, Jaguar Engine Plant, Coventry Mine and the Standard Rover Plant at Canley. The 'regimes of place', in the above quote, have been the central concern of my recent practice in which I have worked with notions of 'absence', 'memory' and 'trace' in examining past usage and changes in meaning in these buildings and spaces.
I work across several modes of practice from drawing to digital imagery and video to create a layered response which maintains a sense of 'openness' and resists 'closure', allowing me to move with and react to the on-going fracturing of these local environments.
My work can be read in part as documentary, but it is more closely aligned to exploring the changes, both architecturally and anthropologically, that occur as the built environment moves from orderly function to chaos prior to further transformation.

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