Viewing construction as a blank canvas

12 Jun 19 | Charlotte Hunter

Much is spoken about the idea of meanwhile uses as developments await to take shape, but are we missing a trick by not focusing on the ‘meanwhile street experience’ as construction takes hold?

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Squeezing along what is left of the public footpath due to the neighbouring construction, I join the crowds of morning commuters making their way from Farringdon station in order to reach our office round the corner. It is fair to say that these few yards are the most frustrating part of the journey. But as the construction hoarding begins to slowly creep back, hinting at progress on the other side, we start to reclaim the public realm and it makes a big difference.

Construction is often seen as a hindrance, a restriction on our daily movements. Even though we know it is temporary, some more so than others, construction sites can feel intrusive on public space. Much is spoken about the idea of meanwhile uses as developments await to take shape, but are we missing a trick by not focusing on the ‘meanwhile street experience’ as construction takes hold?
There is no getting away from the fact that construction has a physical impact, but rather than allowing these to dominate the landscape, they could be put to good use. Increasingly, we are seeing development hoardings being used to say more than just providing construction safety information. They are being used to provide a social contribution, such as the telling of a story and the history of the area that is undergoing a new chapter, like the successful hoardings that once lined the new street at Argent’s King’s Cross regeneration. Or at Battersea Power Station where the hoardings not only told the story but allowed people, particularly children, to interact with it; essentially providing a meanwhile playground.

A slightly more left-field example can be found in New York from the studio Softwalks. Whilst they don’t work on active construction sites, Softwalks seek to reclaim the miles of scaffolding sheds that protrude from buildings, transforming them into urban parks. This includes temporary seats or flower planters that are added to the scaffolding in a way that reclaims these structures – and the streets they dominate – for people.

Importantly, what these examples also show is the desire to improve the aesthetic of these public spaces during a temporary period of upheaval. One of the largest most impactful examples is using the wraps of scaffolding to present a picture. Big media companies such as blowUP media understand the value building wraps can bring. Of course there is the financial benefit, which is shared with the developer, through selling some space for advertising, but there is also the larger social value. No longer does a building undergoing construction need to be hidden from view by a bland sheet, instead their temporary façade can be transformed into an artistic canvass, providing a positive meanwhile contribution to these evolving public spaces.

It has long been recognised that buildings and spaces affect our mood and well-being, and equally our pride and affection for a location. While our spaces are being transformed, there is no reason why they shouldn’t likewise be put to work.

Charlotte Hunter Associate,Engagement
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