IF–DO and Lakwena electrical substation artwork

Kaleidoscopic substation in London "celebrates the spirit of the local community"

UK architecture studio IF–DO and artist Lakwena have wrapped an electrical substation in Brent Cross, London, in an artwork informed by rotating billboards.

The colourful structure is designed to enclose a large electrical substation and become a landmark for the upcoming residential development named Brent Cross Town in north London.

Colourful artwork in Brent Cross
IF–DO and Lakwena have wrapped an electrical substation in a colourful artwork

"It's a celebration," IF–DO co-founder Sarah Castle told Dezeen. "It transforms utilitarian infrastructure into a major new landmark that celebrates the spirit of the local community."

"The project presented an opportunity to create a landmark that would help to define the identity of Brent Cross Town and celebrate the spirit of its residents."

Colourful artwork in Brent Cross
It is informed by billboards

Built alongside a large roundabout in the shadow of a raised highway, the structure screens a large electrical substation and has large demountable panels at ground level for access and installation.

Lakwena designed the colourful artwork, adorning it with the words "here we come, here we rise". It aims to contrast the largely grey cityscape and reflect the movement of passing cars around it.

"Historically my work tends to be fairly two-dimensional, so what was really interesting for me in this space was to be creating an artwork that would be seen from so many different angles and at so many different speeds," Lakwena told Dezeen.

"This became a really important aspect of the concept for us – that it should be able to be 'read' from so many angles and directions. Another consideration was wanting to intervene into what is a very grey and concrete space, and make something that disrupted that, but also in a way also worked with the existing very industrial aesthetic."

Pink structure surrounding substation
The words "here we come, here we rise" are written on it

To create the impression of movement, IF_DO designed the structure to have a "kaleidoscopic effect" so that its appearance changes as people drive, or walk past.

"The kaleidoscopic effect was created with a lenticular facade, with panels that are triangular in cross-section and with each of the outward-facing surfaces treated in a different colour, using a water-based, digitally-printed coating," explained Castle.

"The combination of the lenticular surface, undulating form, and changing light conditions, create the kaleidoscopic effect as the viewer moves around the structure."

Colourful sculpture next to busy road
It was designed to be viewed by passing cars

According to Lakwena, this effect was informed by the rotating billboards often seen alongside major roads.

"One very important key early reference was those mechanical rotating billboards," she said. "I've always loved the tactile nature of them. And I was very excited by the idea of creating something that was animated."

"But then we realised that the motion of the vehicles themselves was enough to create the animation, and the structure could be static," she continued.

"So we kind of inverted that reference and it became a lenticular facade, and we were able to play with these really beautiful colour transitions that come to life as you move around the structure."

The structure is one of the first completed elements of the Brent Cross Town development, which is being developed by Related Argent and Barnet Council. The project is being master planned by UK studio Allies and Morrison and will see 6,700 homes built between Brent Cross and Brent Cross West stations.

IF_DO was founded in 2014 by Castle, Thomas Bryans and Al Scott. Previous projects by the studio include a "demountable and reusable" incubator for start-ups in London and a seaside retreat in Suffolk.


Project credits:

Project Manager: TPS Project Management
Cost Consultant & Employers Agent: Gardiner & Theobald
Civil, structural, MEP, VT, acoustic, fire engineer, sustainability, utilities and infrastructure Engineer: Arup
Architect: IF_DO
Landscape architect: Gillespies
Lighting designer: Michael Grubb Studio
Lighting controls designer: Control Lighting
Client planning consultant: Carney Sweeney
Off-site re-enforcement, PSS fit-out and power supplier: Power On
Client BIM advisor: PCSG
Client CDM advisor: BCAL
Infrastructure contractor: Galldris
Wrap contractor: Bourne Group