Thursday, 3 December 2009
Friday, 11 September 2009
‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’ is the legend that appears beneath the corporate logo of Lyle’s Syrup and Treacle. It is hard today to think of any advertising agency who would allow the image of a bee colony in the rotting corpse of a dead lion and a turn of phrase that might be considered a bit ‘pulpit’ to be considered as a brand image and survive in post… but times have changed.
There is in fact a long tradition of bees in marketing. Bees are ‘productive’ and ‘well-organised’. They make sweet food out of flowers and they pollinate plants. We call them ‘workers’, ‘soldiers’, ‘drones’ and of course they have a bit of royalty! In naming them we transfer an image of our own society to them along with recognition of our own values, systems and hierarchies as if to say that they are like us and we are like them. One big happy family where everyone knows what they are doing. The image of bees has been a metaphor for productivity in commercial hands to an extent where it is almost a part of the language of corporate communication. It should of course be obvious to anyone that we are nothing like bees.
It is no co-incidence that it was for a long-time the corporate symbol of the Co-operative society. Bees and people bonded together in a virtuous cycle of production and exchange. A symbiotic relationship in which status is exchanged between the parties…Producers and consumers. Obviously I’m a bit unclear on what it is exactly that we as consumers put back into this relationship!
Perhaps bees are also a metaphor for social stability and I wonder if this was behind the choice of a beehive as the corporate logo for Paton and Baldwin former owners and developers of the Lingfield Point site.
The brand is now owned by coates crafts so I’ve called to ask them what its origins were and I’ll add to the blog if and when I hear back.
Paton and Baldwin was created by the merger in 1920 of two companies founded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries based in Alloa and Halifax. The two brands ‘Paton’s Rose’ and ‘Baldwin’s Beehive’ survived and you can buy Patons knitting products now (They are emblazoned with a beehive). If you don’t believe me look it up! http://www.coatscrafts.co.uk/Products/Knitting/patons/eco_cotton.htm.
At Lingfield the legacy of this brand is still felt in the naming of buildings. ‘The Beehive’ is the former theatre building. Now let as offices to among others, the naafi, a mezzanine has been constructed in the former auditorium to provide office space but the proscenium arch is still visible and the glorious plaster cartouche that emblazoned the hall has been restored beautifully. There flanked by the masks of comedy and tragedy the beehive corporate logo of Paton and Baldwin graces what was formerly a theatre venue.
Perhaps too there is something slightly transgressive or at least indulgent about bees and honey. We know when we eat it, that like Winnie the Poo, we are gluttons spoiling ourselves but that our greed could come at a terrible price as the swarm seeks revenge. Am I going too far? Think about this the next time you are asked for your nectar card!
In China, where agricultural practices are different to those relied on in the west, pollination is often done by hand which in view of the colony failures happening now might well become part of our future in agriculture too. The huge road trains that drive bee colonies around the Midwestern states are in commercial trouble. The Bees are dying… This forms part of that group of stories around our changing ecology which is such an important component of our current cultural and media environment. It is clear that when we talk about bees we are quick to find a moral narrative - isn’t that odd?
Bees of course know nothing about all this nonsense! (A.) They can't think and (B.) the only symbiotic relationship they have is with flowers.
John and I first started thinking about bees when an architect called Joshua Bolshover presented a competition entry to Tees Valley Arts and Middlesbrough Council for a treatment of the ruderal verges of the A66 in Middlesbrough around the Cargo Fleet interchange in which he proposed bee keeping as an urban farming project which could feasibly be carried out on a trunk road. We were encouraging this line of thinking which is to say we had written the creative brief in a way that allowed a design response about productive urban landscape, but didn’t dare suggest livestock and hadn’t thought of bees! Bees he suggested would cause no damage to moving vehicles and there would be no need for fences and so on. He devised an elaborate ‘toolkit’ for verge maintenance to include hives as part of a suite of outdoor furnishings together with interpretation and of course wildflower planting. He called his proposal A66 nectar! It was a great idea beautifully expressed, exquisitely designed and although it won him an interview it didn’t get picked because (A.) it wasn’t a thing on a roundabout by an artist and (B.) it would probably have been too much trouble and for some other reasons that (er) I just can’t get into here. Anyway it was a fantastic proposal and he deserves a plug so check him out at http://www.newbetter.co.uk/.
From this point on Beekeeping became a subject of interest. My next door neighbour keeps bees and makes honey and I’ve had a good neb about at them and all the kit that is involved. She charges £4.00 for a jar which is a bit rich considering that it is probably made from our flowers.
When the first Futurescope was going up we were looking at the land in front of the Power House where a significant quantity of subsoil from the construction of the new road was being dumped/stored. (Road traffic engineers never think about what to do with the waste produced by their ‘designs’ and they don’t want to pay £6.50 a ton for landfill if they can avoid it! So with poor fertility and no established sward of grass we suggested that it might form a good growing medium for either wild-flowers or Sunflowers (but we were too late with this idea).
There is another intervention as well - for Lingfield Point is branching out into beekeeping for real! The first three hives are installed at a top secret location on site (I have to say this for security reasons) and there are plans to produce and sell the honey. To which end the grounds team (Aka Willy) has kitted himself out with beekeeping gear, gloves, meshes, smokers (which make them drowsy) and has been reading up on it. Watch this space.
There is a magic in the incongruity of beekeeping on an industrial site but it is a fact that the brown-field is a haven for wildlife and part of a productive landscape whose potential for development needs to provide for and respect living things.
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
I described the idea for the image to Marchday’s people and they suggested I ask John Grindley to show me round.
John Grindley’s family has worked at Lingfield Point for three generations. John’s Grandfather was clerk of works on the build after World War Two. His father was the Chief Engineer and John works as part of the Lingfield Security Team.
I described the idea for the picture to John and asked if he could think of good locations to stage it. I drew him a quick sketch of the Beatles ‘Please Please Me’ album cover as a starting point.
He suggested looking at the soap dock lift. The Soap Dock is the first building that faces you as you drive in from the east on the new road. When Paton and Baldwin’s ran the site this is where the fleeces would be delivered, sorted and according to their grade sent to the right floor. Like a lot of the old interiors at Lingfield it is brilliantly painted in blue and yellow which the flash on my camera made more vivid.
We moved on and John showed me the vast network of underground tunnels (miles of them) whose job was to carry services and steam around the site conditioning the atmosphere and giving the right humidity in different places to maintain the right level of moisture in the wool in the factory floors above.
John described in detail the electric vehicles used in the passages and explained the expansion pipes, and fittings. He explained that this control of humidity is what had made the site attractive to Rothmans and that after wool production had ceased tobacco became the new business on site with the steam from the power building and turbine hall being piped around like a giant humidor.
The conversation has changed my understanding of the site. Like anyone who looks at it from the outside it looks like a collection of buildings to me but from the labyrinth below it looks like a machine clad in brick curtain walls.
We stopped at a bay where he pointed out a chalked up inscription ‘END OF THE LINE 1978’. It marks the spot where the last batch of wool was stored before going up to the factory above. He regretted that someone had brushed over it and that a little bit of history had been lost.
As we walked about underground exploring I couldn’t help feeling that the whole place was like the kind of air raid shelter that people had turned the London Underground into during World War Two and it was then that he said something that astonished me. He said that as Clerk of Works his Grandfather had been involved in the specification of the buildings in 1949. The factory site had been constructed to withstand bombing. These tunnels would have been available to workers and nearby residents as bomb shelters in the event of attack and were designed with this secondary purpose in mind and that the whole factory was also designed to be used for the manufacture of munitions and aeroplanes in the event of war. Its proximity to the air base that is now Durham Tees Valley Airport was key to this. He said that during World War Two it had been understood that the impact of bombing on the Axis powers had been to reduce their industrial output to a point where they could no longer maintain their war effort. This had informed the layout of the buildings and open spaces on site. They were placed and engineered to withstand, contain and deflect explosions.
Lingfield Point could have withstood direct aerial bombardment and maintained production.
This was part of the performance specification to which the original designers had worked.
The design of Lingfield Point can be directly linked to the Cold War period, which is obvious but I just hadn’t thought of it that way.
I have always felt that from the outside Lingfield Point looks a little like a cross between an air force base and a holiday camp! But everything about the building has a quality to it. The brick is an engineering grade with an unusual fleck in the surface and hard to break. The finish is high quality but as we had been looking at the unused air conditioning plants and the interiors (We had come out of the underground passage and onto the mezzanine floor of the turbine hall.) something else really struck me - the confidence of the builders and the energy of the 1950’s. The specification of the interior materials is lavish. The mezzanine of the turbine hall for example is laid with terrazzo and the walls are part tiled with an elegant Italian ceramic tile while the paint schemes are pastel blue coloured with strong accent colours in red and ochre.
Nothing here was sorry for itself when it was made!
If it looks like a wartime base on the outside on the inside it is as lavish as a Hillman car with two tone paint job and white walled tyres… I’m even wondering if there are interior designers who specialise in Power Stations!
John said that it was deafening when the turbines were running and he explained the use of now discarded pieces of equipment in supplying the national grid. There is nothing there now other than the odd pigeon and the hum of the still operational substations. It is like standing in a library.
I remember being told how much it cost to supply the coal for the boilers that ran the turbines (Of course now that I’m writing up my blog I can’t remember how much exactly it was but it was either thirty or fifty thousand pounds a day at least it was a lot of money and if anyone wants to put me straight on the exact figure email Lingfield and I’ll update it!)
As John Kennedy and closed the door on the building today after location shooting John said that it felt like we had been in a building that was built as a temple to energy. Energy and particularly sustainability issues are a big theme in our work and have a lot to do with our ideas for Futurescope.
I think a lot of people in Darlington will know this place and perhaps that those that don’t would be interested in what is on the inside. One thing is certain the buildings need showing to people somehow. As well as being about people working at Lingfield and the changes that are afoot we want the next image to show the inside on the outside.
9 September 2009
Friday, 19 June 2009
The idea of Futurescope is that it would be like looking through a distorting mirror and would not be like looking at a 'normal' picture.
John and I wanted Futurescope to have something of this about it as if , when you looked, it might appear to be looking through a hole in the building itself towards a distant framed vision of a future landscape and environment.
We were thinking about reflecting pools, we were thinking about telescopes, we were thinking about distorting mirrors and we were thinking about technology. There are some great panoramas of Mars that have this distant and remote manipulated character about them. The odd thing is that a very small machine made the baseline imagery from which these images are composed but it is possible to imagine, whilst looking at them, that the machine is big in relation to the planet it is photographing!
We liked the idea of a distorting ‘Trompe l’oeil’ effect so that when people saw the picture it would not have the usual pictorial impact but would still have recognisable content. We also wanted to deal with how the image could be ‘composed’ in relation to a circular shape.
Trompe l’oeil means ‘a blow to the eye’ - a term used in art to describe a picture that is so ‘real’ it can deceive people into thinking that they are looking at real things and it has a great tradition of being used in paintings that relate to architecture.
At some point in these discussions one of John's assistants came up with a device that would manipulate the polar co-ordinates of square photographs and turn them into circles. So we started working with the idea.
One of John's photographs of the sky with meadow grass in the foreground really hit the spot and this was the starting point for the first image. It makes a great comparison with the Martian picture!
Tuesday, 9 June 2009
When he saw it he turned round and said that ‘all his plants had escaped!’ The pumpkins had climbed out from beyond the border of the bed and the sunflowers were at least twice as tall as he was. It had all looked very different only a fortnight earlier.
During the day their heads would follow the path of the sun and it was almost impossible not to regard them as people with faces. We stopped and took loads of photos.
We see this kind of planting and thinking as being a potential future for the management of urban green space and we think that there is a point where grounds management and productive farming could meet.
We think that this is the future of how the spaces between buildings in cities could be managed and we think that it is a positive future.
We are very optimistic about this future.
We have loads of Sunflower seeds to give away. Please plant yours and when you have photos post them to the Futurescope page on Facebook.
Thursday, 28 May 2009
In 2001 Marchday who now own Lingfield Point invested in an opportunity for an artist to light their seventeen story office block building ‘Centre North East’ in Middlesbrough. The company had acquired the building after it had lain empty for years after its biggest tenant the Secretary of State quit the building.
This process lead to the appointment of Ron Haselden whose proposal called ‘Rose’ (a new pink neon colour) saw neon strips installed through the seventeen stories of the tower. Although the project attracted a lot of comment, and not all of it favourable, the building looked for the first time in a long time as if it were open for business and shortly afterwards it was let to Garlands.
As we were completing the commission in Middlesbrough they brought me to their newly acquired property in Darlington, Lingfield Point. I remember the visit well, because I could not see how anything could be done with it. It was so vast and so derelict. The sheer scale of it and the knowledge that so many people (10,000) had been employed there was astonishing as was the scale of its dereliction.
We discussed the idea of trying to raise the visibility of the site from the A66 by creatively lighting the eastern perimeter but I knew it would not work because the fields between the A66 and the site were in separate ownership and unless we could get the owners to cut their hedges and keep them low all our work and effort would be wasted!
The site was vast. I have never been under such a big roof and although a lot of it has been remodelled now I still remember a ‘secret’ but vast acreage under one roof let to British American Tobacco.
I came away with absolutely no idea of how anything could be done… and that…. 8 or 9 years ago was the starting point for Futurescope!
Since then I have continued to work as a public art consultant in Middlesbrough and have regularly driven past it looking across the fields and thinking about it - still not seeing what could be done for a couple of years and also feeling a bit embarrassed that I had been presented with this opportunity and failed to make anything of it.
During this time I worked on other projects in the north of the UK and in Scotland and then in 2007 I saw that along the line of the former Stockton to Darlington railway a new road was being built. I thought about it and I realised that it changed everything about the site.
This new road might replace Yarm Road as a new gateway to Darlington from the East. Instead of being the last thing you saw in Darlington (and that from across a field) Lingfield Point had become the first thing you would see on your way in.
I wrote to Marchday and asked if I could have another look at it and they were kind enough to say yes.
When I went back to the site everything about it had changed. When I first went there were only a handful of caretaker staff now at least 2,500 people work on the site. Big companies like Capita and the Student Loan Company had taken significant leases. The derelict theatre had been completely refurbished and was now a constituency office for Alan Milburn MP it is also let out to some great creative businesses, architects and so on.
Marchday had transformed the McMullen Road end adding colour renders to the walls, naming and segmenting the buildings into letting units. The site was really attractive and bit by bit I could see that by doing business it was being brought back to life. I was (and I still am) astonished at the scale of this achievement.
However, all the work that had gone into the McMullen Road end made it look like a ‘front of house’ and the back of the site with buildings like the Turbine Hall around the area of the Soap Dock on the Eastern side still feels untouched by regeneration. However this back end had somehow now become the front of the site because the new road opened up access to it on the approach to Darlington and this created a great opportunity for more development.