A New Subterranean Map of London

London Transport Museum has commissioned me to create a new map for them. Our initial dialogue centered on ‘The Island’, a Map of London that I finished in 2008. Basically it was a hand-drawn map of London’s surface, where words and symbols mingled with geographical information to form among other things – a celebration of place. Traces of local history still resonating today were noted along with popular culture, contemporary life and autobiographical events.  It was essentially a people’s map, a snap shot of a vast and complex city frozen in time.

The information came from a vast range of sources – books, Internet, talking to people as well as my own experiences in the city of my birth and up bringing. I of course edited the details and epithets, but the filter that I used was a broad one in order for the piece to act as a mirror onto its viewer. The serious and the hard facts were to merge with the absurd and banal. It would defy conventions and act as a litmus paper to the reactions of its readers.

A portion of my internet-based research came from Wikipedia. I was drawn to the ability of the medium as a direct and democratic arena in which anyone could contribute his or her story. What is fact and what is fiction and the residue left behind from both is in itself the very fabric of our culture and our folk laws. And so, this blog lends itself to that.

I said afterwards, I would like to have noted the lost rivers of London in ‘The Island.’ The continuing flow of waters that now find themselves diverted and channeled through a system of pipes underground still ending in the Thames. These are the very routes of our city. When London Transport Museum came to me for a new idea, I thought of it straight away – An Underground map of London where I could finally include those lost rivers and develop my own tube map.

I am currently developing the ideas for this subterranean map of London and entries to this blog may contribute to its development. The map will include the underground transport network, the lost rivers of London and other notable sites of interest from pre-history to the contemporary. However, I am also looking to delve a little deeper into the questions of what the ‘underground’ means and how it might be interpreted.

Bus Shelters: What was it all about?

Public transport in London provides millions of connections to millions of people every day. For some it is purely a means of travel; getting to work, school, an appointment or as a link to another mode of transport. For others public transport is a means by which they gain a sense of independence, social freedom or even offers them the possibility of exploration. Why do we journey, what journeys do we make and how do we make these journeys are all questions which I explored with young people during ‘Bus Shelters’; a youth engagement project, part of the national Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

Between February 2010 and March 2011 I worked with five varied and amazing groups of young people from across London. Each group worked with an artist to develop a creative outcome that reflected their interests, opinions and ideals regarding journeys. Each outcome was then displayed in a bus shelter local to the community of each group. (You can have a look at their work at http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/storiesoftheworld)

One of the most amazing outcomes of the project was to see the vastly different ways that each group of young people interpreted the same theme. Some groups explored their own physical and everyday journeys, looking at the ways they travel and the places and people they encounter along the way. Others undertook a more symbolic approach, seeing journeys as metaphor for their growth as young people, exploring the notion of the many and different pathways they must travel in order to reach adulthood.

Working on the project has given me a great insight into London’s dynamic youth culture – and particularly, by virtue of representing being the London Transport Museum(!), a unique and important glimpse into the way young people perceive travel and the journeys they make in what is arguably undoubtedly one of the greatest cities in the world!

Whilst I am sad that the Bus Shelters project has come to an end I am excited about taking my experiences forward into a brand new programme of activities. Over the coming year I will be working with more young people to develop new methods and ways of working that incorporate their interests, opinions, insights and creativity into the museum’s everyday working practices. (If this was twitter and I could hash tag here I think it would be appropriate to say #toomuchfun).

Drawing, drawings, everywhere!

London Transport Museum has many different collections, from posters and signs to buses and trains, with so many other wonderful things in between. This week I was sent down to our drawings store at our Depot in Acton to do some research for an upcoming restoration project. I rather ashamedly had never entered the drawings store before (and can I confess I barely knew of its existence…) – it’s one of those sides to our collection that you only really explore when you really need to. Unlike our beautiful posters, which are often requested for books or exhibitions, or the vehicles which are so dominant in our stores, the drawings are kept neatly tucked away for safe-keeping, meaning I’ve never stumbled across them until now.

A majority of the drawings are made on a linen-type material, which means they don’t rip or crease in the same way that paper does. They are also well used so are looking their age, but they are still of incredibly high value for understanding the vehicles in our collection, and London Transport stock as a whole. Getting the opportunity to delve into the drawers and search through the vast array of drawings was quite the experience, and a decent work-out – the large drawings weigh a tonne!

Journeys 2012

Journeys 2012 is the working title for a major exhibition being organised for 2012. This exhibition will draw on the museum’s outstanding historic map collection to explore the theme of Journeys. The museum is commissioning a series of new artworks for the exhibition which will add further layers of meaning to the existing collection.

One of the artists we are working closely with on this project is Stephen Walter.

Stephen Walter – Journeys 2012 Commission

As part of Journeys 2012, the museum has commissioned Stephen Walter to produce a new map of London. By mapping what lies beneath the city, with reference to both fact and fiction, history and popular culture, Stephen’s subterranean map will present a new London “Underground”. The original artwork will feature in the museum exhibition in 2012, before becoming part of the permanent collection. Limited edition prints will be also published by TAG Fine Arts.

Behind the scenes at TfL’s Lost Property Office

TfL is made up of some fascinating departments, with the Lost Property Office being up there as one of the most interesting. To get a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes, and to learn more about what happens when an item is left on London’s Transport, I spent the day making a documentary for the Museum’s collection with film-maker Geoff Marshall. We explored the stores, watched as staff took customer calls and spoke to them about their experience of working in such an unusual environment.

In 2009, the LPO received a whopping 184,969 items of lost property, ranging from single gloves, laptops, umbrellas and school bags, through to toys, glasses and thousands of mobile phones. When we went down this week the store room was packed with items, all clearly labelled and neatly arranged in numbered zones. The staff work very efficiently – we watched as a call came in from the customer point upstairs, requesting an object be sent up for return. It took the staff less than a minute to locate the object and send it up in the goods lift, making for happy customers.

The LPO store also houses some more bizarre objects which have never been re-claimed, including false teeth, a grandfather clock, a stuffed fox and some prosthetic  limbs. There were also single shoes, crutches and walking sticks, which make you wonder how the owners didn’t notice they had left such objects behind!

Staff gave us a run-through of what happens to an item, from it being left on a bus or Tube to its hopeful return to the owner. Items are normally handed in by members of the public to TfL staff, or are found by staff when checking the vehicles during their shifts. These items are logged with the details of where and when it was found, and are then collected by TfL post vans and delivered to the LPO. Here they are checked and logged onto the computer system, and labelled to LPO’s high standards, before being sent down to the store room for safe keeping. Items are kept for 3 months, in which time it’s hoped the owner will have made contact with the office and come to claim it back. If not, the items in good condition are donated to charity or sold to help fund the running of the office. Charities across the world have benefited over the years, with donated items ranging from clothing   for the Salvation Army to sports equipment  for charities in Africa.

Geoff and I had a great day and will showcase the finished film soon – watch this space! And if you’ve lost an item and want to reclaim it, check out the LPO’s website for more information http://www.tfl.gov.uk/contact/871.aspx

Regeneration Southwark

Our ‘Overground Uncovered’ exhibition, which only recently ended, was packed with community content created by groups and individuals from up and down the East London Line extension. One of the boroughs which we worked with was Southwark, where a wonderful group of elders from the Rotherhithe area made a collaborative ceramic artwork for display in the exhibition. The group, Rainbow Arts, meet once a week to take part in art based activities, and are always keen to learn new techniques and build partnerships with other organisations. Art in the Park, a Southwark based arts charity, provided the expertise and materials for the project.

Each of the participants painted a ceramic tile, which depicted an aspect of the local area that they enjoy or are proud of. The final piece was therefore a celebration of all things great about the Rotherhithe area, advertising it to those who came to the exhibition and to those who use the new Overground line.

The artwork was on display for a year at London Transport Museum, and when the exhibition came down at the end of March I decided to return the artwork to the group so that it could be displayed in their local area. Rainbow Arts are now in consultation with the local council to see if it can be installed either at the new library, due to open later in 2011, or at another public site near their centre. So if you’re ever near Rotherhithe, keep an eye out for this lovely piece of community art.

60 Second Interview with…Heatherwick Studio

Thomas Heatherwick

In January 2010, Heatherwick Studio joined the team leading the design of a New Bus for London. The project marks the first time in more than 50 years that TfL has commissioned and overseen the development of a bus built specifically for the capital. Read More…

Thomas Heatherwick established Heatherwick Studio in 1994. Thomas is an Honorary Fellow of the RIBA and a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art. He is the recipient of honorary doctorates from four British universities – Sheffield Hallam, Brighton, Dundee and Manchester Metropolitan. He has won the Prince Philip Designers Prize and in 2006 was the youngest practitioner to be appointed a Royal Designer for Industry.

Here we talk with Heatherwick Studio about their work on the New Bus for London.

What inspired the design of the New Bus for London?
It has been more than fifty years since someone was last commissioned to look in a comprehensive way at the design of London buses. Heatherwick Studio has been given this task and has developed a new design that reflects the functional requirements and challenges of making a new better bus for London. The bus is particularly special because the design is specific to London. For the first time the ‘look, feel and styling’ of the bus has been designed holistically.  Some of the refinements of the design have resulted in the softening of the form, a return to a more calm and naturalistic usage of materials that echo qualities also identified with the Routemaster. The studio has also been keen to retain a sense of heritage in the design.

What was your biggest challenge in designing the New Bus for London?
The requirements of the new bus make for a slightly longer vehicle than current double deck buses. The studio’s main challenge was how to balance the design requirements with the practical and functional needs. To do this, the exterior form was carefully shaped to make a less box-like object.  The most distinctive aspect of the design is the asymmetric ribbon window with its glass that wraps around the vehicle, expanding at the front to provide the driver with clear kerbside views, and following the two staircases as they rise upward to follow movements of a passenger.

What is your favourite aspect of the bus?
The studio has been keen to ensure that the new bus would be an integrated piece of design with exterior and interior working harmoniously. As a result, there are many details which we took a lot of time getting right. For example, we designed a ‘New Bus for London’ moquette. The pattern is derived from the sculpted typography of the seat, a bit like a map; the contour lines are derived from the undulating shape of the seat.  The resulting rich pattern clearly denotes the individual seating positions whilst effectively masking day-to-day wear and tear. We also paid a lot of attention to the cab, and the driver experience too.  We have tried to give the cab a sense of specialness whilst also providing a highly functional working environment.

The old Routemaster was on the road for 60 years. How do you envision bus design in the next 60 years?
The studio wouldn’t want to begin to predict how a bus might look in 60 years time bearing in mind the technological advancements of the last 60 years. However, it would be safe to say that future technology will impact on any future aesthetic design in the same way the most innovative, latest hybrid and environmentally friendly technology has been taken into account in the current design which will be of great benefit to all in London.

Stephen Walter – Artist’s Statement

Through landscape and mark making, I previously tended to a process that burgeoned sets of abstract symbols. I turned the process on its head in 2001 by taking an array of signs and symbols from the actual world as a starting point to build new images.

My work began to see its objects slowly, taken over by their symbolic representations and the influences of a commercialised world; the idea of landscape and the environment as a shared space could no longer be ignored. In a Post Pop time of mass, industry, culture, and modularisation, my own obsessive tendencies merged with a continuing study into the traditions of Romanticism.

My drawings evolved with a growing lexicon of public and sub-cultural signs and symbols, leading me to look at maps and their keys. I began to invent my own, creating fictitious lands as well as real places in my life. The vastness of information on these drawings was to enrich my growing fascination with the intricacies and the contradictions of our world.

After producing a map of the UK and Ireland I came to the decision that I would make one of London. With an ingrown passion for the city as a native Londoner, I began this undertaking in 2006; it was to span over two years.

London is one of the great living palimpsests of our time. Its layers of history and constant energy to re-invent itself fuel this vast grey magnet. I was spurred on by the great Map Makers of London’s past – John Roque, Greenwood and Phyllis Pearsall (the originator of the A-Z). Informed by my own insights and knowledge, I combined further research on the Internet and through writers such as Peter Ackroyd and Ian Sinclair.

The resulting map, a spoof of historical ones of old, would challenge the first impressions of its viewer, touching on the Capital’s vastness, its secrets and its undercurrents. With this process in mind, I began to edit the information, keeping what I felt were historically important, interesting, relevant and amusing. These fantastical additions and epithets are purposefully innocent and acidic, trivial and serious. The Map is as much about the personality of its viewer as it is about my own. In other words it acts as a mirror.

Britain is a collection of islands and this undoubtedly forms part of our identity. This provincialism at the centre of many industries, in particular the London-centric Art world, and its rise again to world city status, add to London’s identity as an icon, separated from the rest of the country. I wanted to perceive London as another one of these ‘islands,’ and so when mapping the coastline around its Borough edges I was happy to discover Carshalton Beaches coinciding with this border.

It is the facts and perceptions of this study placed within reality that gives this piece such meaning to me. Apart from its coastline, ‘The Island’ is geographically accurate and to scale, highlighting many of London’s main roads, railways, built up areas and its green spaces. It notes the city’s Victorian legacy, snippets of trivia, local knowledge, stereotypes, its place name histories and personal facts and opinions.

Discoveries such as the 1st Earl of Salisbury having honeymooned, in 1589, in what is now a dodgy part of Edmonton caused much amusement, whilst also being of incredible interest in the finding out of how places have changed. Some facts from Wikipedia are blatantly untrue. However, the inclusion of some serves as a reminder that reputations and hype can often precede facts and figures that are themselves selective in their very nature. They can often be more poignancy in ‘the everyday’ than official knowledge and statistics. For this reason, the map constantly bounces between elements of folk and conservative cultures.

Other epithets include: where Winston Churchill went to school and the fact that Screaming Lord Sutch and Byron were both Harrow boys; The Gymnasium where Arnold Schwarzenegger trained; the site where the speed of sound was first recorded; the place where Oliver Twist was taught to thieve; and where Hendrix died. It notes the sights of old Palaces; Newgate Prison from which the convicted were marched off to be hung at the Tyburn Tree (now Speakers Corner); and Pimlico Prison where prisoners were shipped off to Australia, just down the road from Whitehall previously known ‘Tothill’ and ‘the thorny Island’ by its former Druid occupiers. It gives local jargons, notes the Magna Carta Island at Runneymede and the main encampments of the peasants’ revolts.

These aspects have culminated into a study of ‘Our History,’ a celebration of place and an extreme form of drawing where the original requires the use of a magnifying glass in order to read it.