Large-scale design on hoardings

The huge boards around new developments needn’t be eyesores in the urban landscape. In fact, they present the perfect opportunity for good design on a rare large-scale canvas. Anna Richardson sizes up some creative hoardings

Take stock-shots of laughing couples and clinking champagne glasses on a white background, with some prominently placed contact numbers, and you have the blueprint of a bog-standard large-scale development hoarding. We’ve all seen them, and unless you’re hunting for a new place, they don’t exactly add to your day.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. There are recent examples of imaginative, amusing and creatively designed hoardings, from The Architecture Foundation’s commission of the Temporary Eyesore hoarding by artist Scott King to Quentin Blake’s illustrations wrapped around the Grade II-listed Stanley Building on London’s King’s Cross development site.

‘Most of the time, hoarding design is a missed opportunity,’ says Hat-Trick Design director Gareth Howat. ‘Hoardings are often designed for big developers, who are trying to promote an area or a specific building. We approach them as a great opportunity to do largescale, impactful graphics, rather than give them the usual “wallpaper” treatment.’

Hat-Trick’s work for the redevelopment of Oxford Brookes University includes the design of substantial hoardings. Rather than opting for the usual imagery of smiling students, the consultancy designed a series of trees, inspired by the leafy campus, all representing different departments and aspects of the university.

Developers are gradually realising that hoardings offer more than just a place to stick estate agent telephone numbers. Land Securities appreciates the value of what it considers its ‘killer application’ of the brand. ‘A hoarding needn’t be a boring old board and a bit of plywood,’ says Tom Foulkes, Land Securities head of development marketing, retail. ‘It can be done in a way that is more engaging and more effective. You have to engage with people, and to engage with people you have to invest in design.’ Hines, meanwhile, just launched a large-scale Urban Gallery project, wrapped around its One Grafton Street development, in collaboration with Royal Academy Schools, which displays the work of 13 art students and alumni. The gallery is part of a larger concept designed by Sectorlight and brokered by Futurecity, to tie Hines into a cultural strategy, the One Spirit Showcase, and will continue to showcase different art projects throughout the development period.

Sectorlight managing director Jerry Llewellyn says building wraps are generally undervalued as tools to promote a brand. ‘If you look at the exposure that hoardings get to the public, you’re reaching thousands of people on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis. You’re getting massive return for the exposure, and a lot of clients underestimate that power,’ he says. ‘There are some great examples of how you can turn something so utilitarian into something that’s culturally interesting. It creates pride and something to feel good about.’

The UK is outshone by European and US counterparts when it comes to the creative use of what are essentially prime-location, large-scale blank canvases, adds Llewellyn. ‘Europe gets it right,’ he says. ‘[When there’s a development], they will wrap it, clad it and make it look unusual and exciting. In London, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite for it.’

This difference in attitude is partly to do with the UK’s restrictive planning regulations, with authorities reluctant to let creative designs through. Design consultancy BWP Group learnt this the disappointing way, when their design for the hoardings around a new boutique hotel was rejected by the council. The proposed hoarding had a leatherpadded design to reflect the luxury hotel brand through a ‘subtle and interesting’ approach, says BWP creative director James Williams, but it was still scuppered by red tape. Hoardings are too often used as blatant marketing tools, with the need to promote sales at the forefront of developers’ minds, says Williams, whereas building communication with the neighbourhood should also be a core aim. Cultural consultancy Futurecity brokers many collaborations. As well as the One Spirit Showcase, Futurecity put in place the cultural strategy for Stockwell Park and Robsart Village in east Lambeth. The Village People temporary hoarding is the first artwork to be installed on the site. Illustrated by comic book artist Thomas Dowse, it depicts residents of the estate, capturing genuine neighbourhood characters.

Igloo Regeneration, meanwhile, worked with art collective 4Wall on the community engagement programme for its Bermondsey Square development, which opened last week. It aimed to highlight the depth of local values and traditions in the area, with the 180m hoarding surrounding the building site providing the starting point. Inspired by conversations with local people, 4Wall artists painted different illustrations on the 2.4m2 wooden boards over a threemonth period. The resulting large-scale artwork met Igloo’s initial goals and its desire to avoid overt branding, as well as creating a point of discussion and promoting a sense of ownership within the community.

Futurecity’s Davy stresses that such projects have to be executed with the same rigour as any other campaign would. Even though the private sector and, particularly, the property sector find it increasingly interesting to look at more innovative ideas, ‘they’re not philanthropists’, as Davy puts it. ‘But they are looking for different treatments, and if you get the conditions right, you can do brilliantly innovative work and give artists great opportunities at the same time.’

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