Stockwell Park Estate Signage and Wayfinding

No Place Like Home

Hat-Trick Design’s wayfinding system celebrates the rich cultural mix in one of London’s inner-city social housing estates.

London’s inner-city social housing estates may unfortunately be best known for the gang violence and other crime that have plagued them in recent decades. But to those who live there, the estates are more than just headline news. They’re home.

Like other housing estates across the country, Stockwell Park—a 40-acre development near Brixton in South London—is undergoing a long-term regeneration that replaces old tower-block housing with new, smaller residences and celebrates the rich history and cultural diversity of the people who live there.

A new pedestrian wayfinding program created by Hat-Trick Design (London) is the latest sign of the regeneration. Inspired by the Victorian tiles found in some of the estate’s oldest buildings, Hat-Trick conceived a signage system that would reflect the visual and cultural influences of the estate’s residents in an artful way. The signs incorporate custom tiles created by local artists—from a graffiti artist to type and textile designers—commissioned to create patterns that reflect the residents’ cultures and history.

“We wanted to create functional art that was decorative and showcased the history of the place,” says Gareth Howat, Hat-Trick co-founder and creative director.

Cultural connectivity

Hat-Trick entered the project through Futurecity, the consultancy tasked with developing an arts and cultural strategy for the estate redevelopment. In 2007, Futurecity undertook a four-week consultation with residents that identified ways that art could be used to create a unique sense of place and inspire community pride.

“In London, where many inner-city areas are being regenerated, culture is quite a toolkit for placemaking,” says Mark Davy, Futurecity founder. “In the past, this might have taken the form of public art in a square, but today we’re using more of an embedded approach. You’ll find art integrated into street furniture, signage, and architectural elements. It’s a way to ensure that the cultural heritage of the residents is part of the DNA of the place.”

Hat-Trick collaborated with Futurecity, architects BPTW Partnership, and landscape architects MESH Partnership to integrate the signage program into the overall project.

Hat-Trick’s central idea was to create a palette of tile patterns based on the historical, architectural, and cultural history of the area, especially the cultures of the diverse population, which includes Europeans, Africans, and Asians, many of them immigrants. The area was once part of a Roman trade route out of the city, and has seen many changes in population and cultural diversity over the years. With a small arts committee made up of local residents, Hat-Trick selected a mix of local designers and artists to create a range of patterns, all with links back to the residents.

“We felt that rather than doing a ‘corporate’ design, it should feel vibrant, like the area itself,” Howat explains.

The artists and designers created more than 60 patterns, ranging from a depiction of the Empire Windrush, a ship that brought immigrants over from Jamaica in 1947, to work by graffiti artist Boyd. Others incorporate textile patterns reflecting the cultures of Caribbean, Portuguese, and West African residents. And some patterns make visual reference to 19th century Victorian villas found on the estate.

Modular and accessible

Working with a modest budget, Hat-Trick’s goal was to start with a flexible off-the-shelf signage product that, combined with the tiles, could be used to create a bespoke look. Hat-Trick and fabricator Spectrum Architectural Signing chose Workshop2’s Chameleon system, built for tough urban environments.

Hat-Trick designed the modular system to appear in a variety of configurations, from building identification to freestanding totems. Its simplicity allows the signs to adapt to the eclectic architectural styles and building materials found on the estate. The tiles will also eventually be incorporated into landscape architecture, and Hat-Trick created a series of bird boxes with tiled roofs to help encourage local birds to nest.

The patterns were deliberately mixed up in application, so there is no set color zone or pattern associated with just one area within the site. “The idea was to make it as mixed and varied as possible,” adds Howat.

The system also needed to be accessible to all, so Hat-Trick chose a “clean and clear” typeface (ITC Avant Garde) high color contrast, and simple, clean layouts for the information. “We simplified the existing estate map to make it as clear as possible.” 

An enduring legacy

Because the signs need to withstand the weather and years of urban wear and tear, fabricator Spectrum Architectural Signing (London) advised using solid metal rather than ceramic tiles and a robust hardware system.

“Stockwell Park is an inner London housing project and we were informed by the client that vandalism was an issue,” says David Gerrard, Spectrum director. “The Chameleon system is very robust, with no visible fixings, and we used 10mm-thick aluminum plate for the tiles, so we were confident the hardware would be vandal resistant.” Both wall-mounted and freestanding signs were given a tough clear lacquer coating.

For optimum reproduction of the vivid tile patterns and to replicate the look of ceramic tiles, Spectrum chose digital printing directly to the metal surface. The aluminum plate was polyester powdercoated and the graphics were digitally printed direct to media using UV hardening inks. Tight tolerances and compatibility issues with the coating materials, inks, and lacquers made the job challenging, says Gerrard.

“Digital printing lends itself best to printing photographic images rather than areas of flat color, where you can get ‘calendering,’ or lines in the color,” he notes. “To mimic the look of ceramic tiles, we had to put a lot of ink down. Finding a printer who was prepared to deliver the quality we needed was a challenge. I don’t know how many control samples we produced to get everything right.”

Spectrum radiused the edges of the metal tiles to mimic a ceramic-tile look. This detail created perhaps the biggest fabrication challenge: getting the digital print to ‘bleed’ around the radiused edges in a controlled way. “I’m sure many people wouldn’t notice, but getting details like that right really contribute to the overall success of the project.”

Howat says the project was a long time in coming due to changes in client and the financial downturn impacting the housing market. In the end, though, he feels the solution is an enduring and beautiful one. “We had to be determined to see it through and make sure that we kept the original design principles in place. We think it was worth the effort and the wait.”

--By Pat Matson Knapp, eg magazine No. 09, 2014


Client:  Network Housing Group

Location:  Stockwell, near Brixton, South London

Budget:  Confidential

Project area:  40 acres

Open date:  February 2014

Design:  Hat-Trick Design

Design Team:  Gareth Howat, Jim Sutherland creative directors; Gareth Howat, Alex Swatridge, Laura Bowman, Tim Donaldson designers

Fabrication:  Spectrum Architectural Signing primary fabricator, Workshop2 Chameleon sign system

Consultants:  Futurecity cultural placemaking and arts consultant; BPTW Partnership architects, MESH Partnership landscape architects

Photos:  Phil Starling

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