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People who make places: Wendy Smith

Wendy Smith

How do you describe what you do when someone in your family asks?

The term architect has a well-established meaning amongst most people who usually equate it with the design of buildings, but most people are unclear about what that actually entails. I try to describe it as someone that oversees the design and construction of a building, from the macro, the overall shape and size, to the micro and the tiniest detail. On average, an architect will make over 100,000 decisions relating to the design of the building and my role, as part of a wider team is to take responsibility for those.

What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I’ve been lucky enough to work on many fantastic buildings located all over the world, but the one that really sticks out in my mind is ‘The Tower of Love’, a wedding chapel located on Blackpool seafront. It was the first project I worked on and I followed it from early stages of concept design through to completion. The realisation of a building is such a long process, anywhere from 3 years onwards from beginning to end, and the best moments are when you see your hard work come to fruition.

What aspect of your work gives you the best feeling?

The majority of projects I have worked on have been within the public realm and seeing the public engage and interact with a building I have worked on is extremely exciting. Designing buildings that can offer new facilities or somehow improve public amenities allows new experiences to occur and communities to develop. When putting something new into the world that is beneficial to people, there is a huge sense of achievement and reward like no other but of course, with this comes great responsibility.

What keeps you awake at night?

Architecture is a very hardworking industry and because of its complexity, it takes huge amount of resources to manage. As a result, in my experience late nights and weekend working hours are commonplace. Many people view architecture as a vocational subject where passion and enthusiasm for it outweighs negatives of extended working patterns.

What does your work now have to do with what you studied, if at all?

Like any profession, the industry is prescriptive about the educational requirements needed to legally qualify as an architect and the educational system is set up to reflect that. This is a three-stage process of qualifications of a bachelor degree, masters degree and professional diploma after which you qualify. However, although there are restrictions for those wanting to become an architect, there are many examples of people studying architecture who have gone to carve successful careers in other creative industries. Spatial disciplines such as product and furniture design, set design and sculpture benefit from the skills you learn whilst studying architecture.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career like yours?

Although the educational process is prescriptive and completion is very long process (it took me ten years from initial degree to final qualification), I would advocate that students should not rush this process and instead take time to engage and develop skills that fascinate and engage them. An art foundation year might be a good way to begin experimenting with sculpture and spatial aspects of design before embarking on an architectural degree. As mentioned previously, architecture equips students with a whole range of skill sets that can be transferred to a range of different scales, from planning a new city to designing a chair and often skills that can be applied from other disciplines provide the cross pollination of ideas needed to energise a creative industry. Being a well rounded and engaged person.

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Wendy working with pupils from St John Bosco School in the Exploring Nine Elms project
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The Cultivate story so far

 

 

We’re excited to announce the launch of this short 6-minute film telling the story of how the Cultivate Programme came about and sharing some of the stories of recent projects from our partners.

The film features footage of creative workshops taking place, along with interviews with young people and teachers from St Mary’s and Griffin Primaries who have been involved with Cultivate projects, as well as the artists that lead the activities. The projects featured in the film are ‘Moving Walls’ by Orly Orbach with St Mary’s Primary and ‘Nine Songs for Nine Elms’ by Lucy Cash and Fraya Thomsen with Griffin Primary.

Leader of Wandsworth Council, Councillor Govindia, and representatives from Nine Elms developers and contractors Taylor Wimpey and Midgard also appear in the film, sharing their thoughts on why cultural community engagement is so important.

Chocolate Films are a local social enterprise who produce videos, specialising in arts, museums and heritage subjects, and have a great track record of working with young people and the community.

Moving Walls

 

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Portion of artwork of the Moving Walls hoarding, with prints and words by children at St Mary’s, supported by artist Orly Orbach

Moving Walls was the first Cultivate project to be completed – although the enjoyment and learning are sure to carry on amongst the children at St Mary’s Primary School.

Some background about the project…

St Mary’s Primary is in the very centre of the Battersea Exchange development, with new buildings going up all around, including an exciting new school building that they will move into in September 2016. (You can see a timelapse video of the new school going up here.) This is a key project in the overall development of the area led by Wandsworth Council and the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership.

Dallas Pierce Quintero (DPQ) is the cultural strategist for this development and, in partnership with Pump House Gallery, they commissioned artist Orly Orbach to work with the children to create a site-specific work. Moving Walls aimed to enhance the timber hoarding built around the school and visible from the playground.

Because it is such an immense change, the project aimed to engage every pupil in the school, to give them a chance to express thoughts and feelings about these changes, to produce something beautiful of which they can feel proud, to gain creative skills and to learn about an artist’s practice.

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The hoarding in process of being installed and finished off

Orly ran sessions in the school from November to March 2016, having some contact with eight classes in the school and 240 children in total, but running more in-depth workshops with the older pupils. Teachers also carried on work in between those workshops, for example, to develop creative writing contributions. The hoarding was installed at the end of May. Councillor Govindia, leader of Wandsworth Council, visited to see it and contributed to the first Cultivate film, much of it filmed at St Mary’s.

It was ambitious to try to involve all the pupils, so a key challenge was to ensure that all their many ideas could be represented in a professional and inspiring way in the hoarding artwork. It borrows the aesthetic of a sketchbook, with the children’s contributions jostling and overlapping, with visual cohesion provided by the simple red, black and white colour scheme.

The original brief for the artist suggested a range of approaches relating to the construction of Battersea Exchange, for example:

  • Responding to existing structures such as the railway viaduct
  • Documenting the building process
  • Responding to the architectural designs and materials of the new school building
  • Documenting the history of the site and school building to be demolished.

The Pump House Gallery were in a supportive role, recruiting, briefing and guiding the artist and ensuring the school needs were met. Anneke Kuipers, its learning programmes manager, was very clear that the school should lead the development of the project content in collaboration with the artist. After planning with all the class teachers to ensure that activities would meet the curriculum needs across the school, Orly chose to explore the idea of the life-cycle of the school. Children were helped to imagine the school as alive, growing, being loved, falling into disrepair, dying, and a new school being reborn. As stimulus, she used a range of resources such as her own photographs and scenes from The Fall of the House of Usher by Poe.

She used a variety of printing and image-making techniques with the children, including creating printing shapes with foamboard and visual poems. The range of activities gave the teachers and children new creative ideas for observing, documenting and responding to an environment and its changes.

Other key ambitions for the project included the artist being able to develop their own artistic and educational practice, and for the Pump House Gallery to develop its relationship with local schools. To follow up this project, the Gallery is committed to working more with the children and families living in the nearby estates.

Chocolate Films were commissioned to make a film about Cultivate, including the Moving Walls project. This will be linked here as soon as it is complete.

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An inked-up printing shape – a heart with wings expressing love for the school and its community
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Orly helping some children plan a narrative about the life-cycle of the school, and decide which images to turn into a printing shape

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Edible Avenue

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The Edible Avenue project is starting to shape up, helped by a community event that took place at St George’s Primary School on 21st May. And a community planting event for all ages is taking place this weekend in Thessaly Road on 11th and 12th June 2-4pm.

The Edible Avenue will be an exciting treatment or installation to improve the high wall along Thessaly Road, the boundary of the New Covent Garden Market (NCGM) site. The Edible Bus Stop (EBS) are a design and landscape architecture practice who specialise in creating playful and green landmarks for underused or unloved spaces. NCGM plays an important role in the local economy and community, and yet it remains largely unseen beyond its wall. Edible Avenue celebrates the food and flowers that are constantly coming in and out of the market, and the long history of the Nine Elms area as a ‘market garden’ growing food for the city. In Edible Avenue, food growing becomes a tool to connect people.

The team from Edible Bus Stop will create an interactive streetscape, where a white picket fence emerges from the wall, playfully curving to form seating. The wall is to be painted in uplifting colours, with graphic motifs stretching along its length, providing a vibrant backdrop.

The installation will morph into a series of planting areas with fruit bushes, trailing plants, edible flowers and herbs planted throughout. Local residents will be invited to get involved with the planting and tending of these mini gardens and help themselves at harvesting events. The aim is to get people of all ages involved with the new planting spaces to share gardening skills and encourage conversations between each other.

At the community engagement day on the 21st May, the EBS team presented their designs at St George’s school. Attendees were invited to come along and help plant up young herb plants in pots to take away and nurture. They were welcome to keep them, or bring along to the planting days, like the one this weekend on June 11th and 12th, to add to the planters in Edible Avenue. 

Lots of enthusiastic children and their parents came along to plant the herbs and share ideas as to what could be featured on the walls. They gave a resounding ‘thumbs up’ to the concept. There was genuine excitement with everyone looking forward to the changes to the boundary and integration of the surrounding community.

Mr Dane, a large-scale mural art specialist, was there to sketch people’s ideas for the wall. Also present were Cultural Consultant Aida Esposito and Community Liaison Sue Sheehan, who are working for Vinci St Modwen on ongoing community engagement for the NCGM site developments.

The Edible Bus Stop team found that St George’s Primary is a wonderful example of a school that treats its gardens lovingly, which in turn has a positive impact on the children and the atmosphere in which they learn and play. 

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People who make places: Ana Ospina

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This is the first in our planned series of posts telling stories about people who work in creative and place-making careers. We hope to include posts about all the fabulous artists, designers, architects and others that are leading Cultivate projects or working on the Nine Elms developments. The first is Cultivate’s own lead project co-ordinator, Ana Lucia Ospina.

  1. How do you describe what you do when someone in your family asks?

Both my parents are self-employed, so they understand it isn’t always straightforward. They really encouraged and supported me to follow my passions. I describe myself in different ways depending on the situation; sometimes I call myself an artist, sometimes I’m a project manager, sometimes I’m a community engagement consultant. I probably tell my family that I work on creative projects that involve members of the public. That’s the simplest answer!

  1. What is the most interesting project you’ve worked on?

I started a business with my best friend straight out of University, in 2005. At first we had no idea what we were doing, we tried a bunch of different things and eventually settled in public art. We had an amazing project back in 2010, where we had the opportunity to deliver a series of permanent artworks across two neighbourhoods in Sheffield. We worked closely with the landscape architects who were appointed to carry out improvements to the streets across both housing estates. We carried out lots of community engagement and consultation during the design phase and worked with local craftspeople to produce the artworks. The budget for the project was over £200,000. I still can’t believe they let us do it! It was exciting and challenging and I’m still really proud of it.

  1. What aspect of your work gives you the best feeling?

Helping give members of the public a voice when it comes to changes happening in their local area, and helping people unlock their creativity and learn new skills and knowledge. I always learn a lot from the people I work with, there are some amazing community activists and local heritage experts out there! They are the real heroes, they change people’s lives every day and I find it so inspiring to meet them and hear their stories. I also love getting to know a new place and finding out all the quirky, funny little forgotten stories and sharing and celebrating them!

  1. What keeps you awake at night?

Being self-employed isn’t easy. It’s a lot of responsibility and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid! Things can go really well for years, then suddenly you have no work…it can be really stressful. You have to be very adaptable and resourceful as well as resilient. I’m a bit of a worrier, which is a mixed blessing as it means I am very conscientious and reliable but also means I can overdo it and make myself ill. But I think I’m getting better at managing stress as I get older. It’s really important to have a balance. You shouldn’t just work all night and at weekends because no one is telling you to stop and go home! You need to look after yourself because if you get ill, no one is going to do your work for you! Plus, I think ‘play time’ is an important part of the life of a creative person, if you stop playing, you can lose that.

  1. What does your work now have to do with what you studied, if at all?

That’s an interesting question. I think my work is mostly a manifestation of my personality, as I love nature and stories and meeting new people. But of course that has influenced my career path and my studies have given me certain tools which help me to make a living. I studied a joint honours degree in Fine Art and Scenography (Theatre Design) at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth. My other love is singing and when I was younger I thought perhaps I wanted to act. But the joint degree was more theoretical than practical, and I found myself becoming more interested in designing experiences and telling stories. The result of this was that I started creating art installations in both halves of my course, with cross-pollination between the two subjects. After setting up my company and working for a couple of years I went to Central St Martins to do a Master of Arts degree called ‘Creative Practice for Narrative Environments’. There I met lots of architects and designers and learnt more about working to a design brief and designing experiences in different types of place. I also carried out a work placement with a public art consultancy and met an established public artist who I ended up working with. I would say I still use pretty much all of the skills and knowledge I gained through my studies in my work today. Creative skills are highly transferrable!

  1. What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career like yours?

The word ‘career’ implies a bit more of an intentional approach than what I have taken! I still don’t really know ‘what’ I am, but I’ve grown more comfortable with that over time. I guess I wish I had started making plans for the future earlier in my life. My choice of University was fairly random. I don’t regret it – it was great! But perhaps if I’d had better advice I would have made a more informed choice which may have made life easier for me later on. I would advise young people to gain as many ‘solid’ skills as possible early on. If you can do Graphic Design or CAD, you will be so much more employable if things get hard in the future! The more diverse skills you have, the more flexible you can be. Finally, work placements/internships are a great way of getting experience when you start out, but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Once you have the experience you need, thank them and politely tell them that if they want you to stay they need to start paying you! Too many people in the creative sector are willing to work for nothing, which makes it so much harder for everyone to get paid fairly. And don’t give up!

Nine Songs for Nine Elms

As part of Cultivate, UP Projects are curating and producing a series of new commissions as a part of Berkeley Homes’ new Vista development in Nine Elms. Lucy Cash has been selected to create a film and performance commission working with local people (see below on how to take part), residents’ associations and children from Griffin Primary School.

Cash is a multidisciplinary artist who uses filmmaking, digital installations and ‘social choreography’. She is especially interested in accessible ways of connecting dance to the environment around us.

She is working with the community to create Nine Songs for Nine Elms; a series of songs inspired by the heritage of the Nine Elms area. Each song will be influenced by a different musical genre and composed by the participants. At the finale the various groups will perform each other’s songs – for example, elders singing a song by a primary school class. The creation of songs will offer a diverse range of ways to get involved – contributing words or their voice; choreography or an idea for the performance of the song.

 

The project will look at heritage narratives, local stories and memories which celebrate the diverse history of the local area. The final outcomes, including the final film, will help ensure these heritage stories are preserved in memory as the site develops. This will be presented as part of Chelsea Fringe in June 2016 and will also be made available as a resource for Berkeley Homes and London borough of Wandsworth.

Local people can take part through these public events:
London Festival of Architecture
Saturday 4th June at 3pm:
Artist talk at Studio RCA, Riverlight, Nine Elms Lane + walking tour to Doddington Roof Garden, part of London Festival of Architecture.

Chelsea Fringe Festival
11th June 11am to 4pm:
Drop-in workshops at Doddington Roof Garden Fun Day, part of Chelsea Fringe
See here for more details.

Nine Elms Past and Present

Through this website, we aim to share stories of good practice to inspire more excellent creative place-making projects with young people. Some will be projects we find interesting and relevant even though they aren’t part of the Cultivate programme. Nine Elms Past and Present is definitely inspiring and relevant. It’s about Nine Elms, it uses media and heritage resources in a creative way, it involves young people, and one of our partners Chocolate Films is behind it!

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It’s a media and heritage project led by young people working with Chocolate Films. They aimed to discover real life stories about people that lived and worked in Nine Elms before the decommissioning of Battersea Power Station in 1983. It lasted a year, involved 400 people in total and was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Chocolate Films has always been based near Nine Elms and has had a long relationship with both the developers and the communities in the area. They thought it would be invaluable to research and document the social history of this fast-changing area. The result was a fantastic programme, devised with young people, in partnership with local arts and cultural organisations which reached out to local residents.

Their filmmakers trained and supported 30 young people to engage with an older generation and uncover unheard stories about the area and its history. The participants learned documentary filmmaking skills, which includes researching local heritage, skills in listening, empathising and interviewing people, and technical skills with cameras, audio and editing. They created four short documentaries as well as many oral history recordings. They also learned how to create a dedicated website for the project and designed an exhibition to showcase their creative work, which was held in February at StudioRCA at Riverlight. Many of the participants became Chocolate Films Ambassadors and achieved Arts Awards from their work on the project.

The project has included a range of exciting events for the local community. Highlights include the launch event and screening at Battersea Power Station of The Optimists of Nine Elms plus a Q&A with director Anthony Simmons, and an Oral History Collection Day at Battersea Arts Centre.

The website provides a great legacy for the project, and a resource for all Cultivate partners, educators and community groups to celebrate and explore Nine Elms’ heritage. It includes oral histories on themes of culture, community, industry, politics and activism, transport and leisure. You can also explore through the profiles of all the people they interviewed. Or, you can dig around in the archive, where there are old films of the area, including some odd treasures like a film about a doll factory, or some photos of Battersea Power Station.

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If you have any queries about this project, get in touch with Chocolate Films on workshops@chocolatefilms.com

Chocolate Films is working with us to create an introductory film to the Cultivate project, which will be posted here when it is ready.

Cultivate launching

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St Mary’s Primary school – new building project

Welcome to Cultivate’s first post! We have been setting up the project for the past 4 months, and now we’re ready to spread the word.

We are one of seven ‘Cultural Education Challenge‘ projects around London part-funded by A New Direction. Cultivate has been awarded two year’s funding, matching contributions from Wandsworth Council and Nine Elms developers. Our aim is to create a bridge between the cultural opportunities being created through the regeneration and local young people aged 7 to 19 who would most benefit from them.

As the transformation of Nine Elms on the South Bank unfolds, a cultural strategy is creating vibrant new venues, creative workspace, public art and festivals. Cultivate will support this work through Art and Design-led workshops and hands-on participatory projects. These will raise young people’s awareness and aspiration in relation to creative and place-related study and professional paths.

Cultivate aims to support relationships between this changing area and schools nearby, to nurture quality projects and ensure opportunities to be involved are shared effectively. This will result in a place that is seen as both a cultural destination in the making and a starting point for a future creative generation.

The funding has enabled a dedicated focus on collaboration with developers, cultural organisations and schools to offer: project coordination, quality guidance, evaluation support and relationship brokerage as well as sharing learning and best practice.

Current projects include:

  • Creative Hoarding Project at St Mary’s School, led by artist Orly Orbach and the Pump House Gallery, working with cultural consultant DPQ and developer Taylor Wimpey
  • Nine Songs for Nine Elms with Griffin Primary School, led by artist Lucy Cash and Up Projects, working with the Vista Development site and developer Berkley Homes
  • Edible Avenue with St Georges Primary School, led by artists Edible Bus Stop, working with cultural consultant Aida Esposito and developer Vinci St Modwen, related to developments around Thessaly Road and the New Covent Garden Market.
  • Exploring Nine Elms at Chesterton Primary, St John Bosco College and John Burns Primary, supported by ReachOutRCA. This project is not fixed on one development site, but is directly commissioned by the Cultivate team to explore new ideas, build relationships with schools that have been offered fewer projects so far, and trial our planning approach with them.

The project is led by Enable on behalf of Wandsworth Council and the Nine Elms Vauxhall Partnership. It is hoped to expand the project into Vauxhall in the near future. For more information contact Ana Ospina: ana.ospina@flowassociates.com or 07732 787423.

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