Totem3, a signpost artwork on Walthamstow High Street by Seán & Stephen Ltd (S&S), offers a fun, formal reimagining of luminous street furniture.
How were you commissioned?:
We were appointed as the designers following a closed-invite tender. We were invited by the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) because we had previously provided design services for them.
What was the brief from the client and how much were they involved?:
The brief, at tender stage, began as a bespoke sign-post for restaurants and the cinema to advertise from. Following concept design and a brief development workshop the client was prepared to consider the project more as a curious urban intervention rather than seeking another soulless, though pragmatic, signage. The client, LBWF, input on all outwardly visible design decisions, and relayed policy and concerns from the Council at each design and construction stage meeting.
How did the brief affect the materials and design choices?:
The project was to be durable in constant exposure to weather. The brief related to the harsh site conditions - constant traffic, driving rain and wind, possible vandalism and risk of structure being climbed. In response the design sought tough, rare, corten steel, in circular hollow sections, was flown in from Illinois USA for the legs of the Totem. A lightweight aluminium and steel internal frame resisted wind loads, and the head cube was clad in white opal perspex. The perspex provided wipe-able, shatter-resistant surfaces, while the corten was a rough offering to street-level bashes and haptic encounters.
How did your previous experience help you with this project?:
Our previous project working for LBWF on improving their high streets with shop-front interventions gave us a sense of the community and local built environment. With this in mind we knew early on that the design should resist looking too comfortable in it's location, rather look like a visitor, or a passing pedestrian.
Can you explain the layout of the project:
Long spindley corten steel legs hold aloft a white cube, on which markings - half-hieroglyph, half wayfinding - are applied. The cube has concealed LED light sheets giving an even glow to the street.
What problems or challenges did you face?:
Multiple stakeholders pulled the design in multiple directions - changing the overall bias from one of advertising to one of urban art/sign design was a challenging maneuver, though one which helped produce a truly curious and unique outcome. Another issue was the prospect of adding another piece of street furniture to an otherwise already cluttered and utilitarian streetscape. To set our design apart we sought differentiation in form and materials.
What do you feel were the most unusual design elements of the project?:
Given the context of a London suburb town centre, the materials and form of the design really make it stand out. The cube and long legs are formal, considered gestures, almost anthropomorphic, or cartoon-like in proportions. The corten material has some character and subtlety of light and texture which the streetscape palette is otherwise void of.
How do you think this project is pushing design forward? What makes it special?:
Simply working between civic stakeholders and commercial stakeholders to produce a sculptural urban form.
The White Wall Company