Creatives For London: Artists and the Built Environment

April 1, 2022

‘Providing workspaces and opportunities for artists to thrive, can preserve inspirational environments, and support high quality design of space ’

At Creative Land Trust, we believe that the impact of artist and maker spaces reaches far beyond the studios and individuals being supported, to our local communities and public realm. 

Increasingly, we are seeing examples of how professionals in the built environment are seeking artists to become central team members in the property or infrastructure design process, with inspiring and positive effects.    

It is pleasing to see developers recognising the potential for this level of creative engagement in the design process. One recent example is where Land Securities are taking a student partnership approach in Lewisham and working with Royal College of Art service design programme. The aim is to understand the project challenges for their regeneration project around Lewisham Town Centre and come up with solutions for the long-term.

City of London’s Culture and Commerce Taskforce produced a report as part of the Creatives for London project, looking more closely at this approach. The report summarises four case studies within the Culture Mile where artists ranging from visual artists, poets, curators and sculptors were engaged by property teams to explore and challenge the unfamiliar and ambitious.  

Engaging creatives in the development process, ensured fresh approaches to work and contributed skills in problem-solving. The project teams outlined in the report all share a willingness to challenge habitual methodologies and prioritise facilitating conditions for creatives to thrive. The benefits for the built environment are spaces that work more closely in consultation with local communities, resulting in more depth to their cultural and creative references. 

Creatives for London Summary of Case Studies 

– As part of the Smithfield Public Realm project, Hawkins Brown worked with Contemporary Art Society to select artist in residence Larry Achiampong to work on an ambitious pedestrian focussed public realm design at Smithfield Market. The project participants noted that they were taken out of their comfort zones which ultimately lead to more sharing and the cultural references that informed the design proposals were based on real experience and “….ultimately what you hope to find in a great public space” . 

– At Moor Lane Community Garden project, Kit Finnie was selected as poet in residence to stretch the project beyond a focus on gardening and provide a creative output that was reflective of the community. Poetry and property might not be an instinctive match, but it is something that the Building Centre have also encouraged through their own poet in residence, Lionheart. Poetry helps to connect the physical space with how it makes us feel, an important link between property, creativity and our emotional wellbeing. This project also looked at building longevity by ensuring a digital presence. 

Gaia’s Garden run in partnership with Play Nice and Dominvs Group, reset preconceptions about how open space at a development in the City can be used as a meanwhile space for social connectedness and creativity.  The developer, Dominvs Group, provided an impressive level of investment and importantly, gave the creatives freedom to transform the space by not setting limitations.  

– The Sculpture in the City project transformed the public realm into an annual sculpture park, delivered by City of London Corporation in collaboration with Lacuna. Supporting the creatives to provide the best outcome. This project  was the artist’s first experience of exhibiting outside a gallery space and this provides important professional development for artists, who can reach and need to understand, wider audiences. 

Gaia’s Garden (Banner Image) Source: Francis Augusto.
Bloom Paradise by Jun T. Lai (Left Image) Source: ONECITY. Moor Lane Community Garden (Top Right Image) Source: Wayward. Gaia’s Garden (Botton Right Image) Source: Brick Magazine

All participants – both creatives and project managers – said that the experience added value and that they would push for their involvement again. “100% of project representatives said creatives added value to the project”  

Overall, the key learning for built environment professionals, is that this approach requires time, resources and flexibility. But the outcomes match the ambitions, and it will lead to more far reaching, genuine social engagement and inspirational environments.  

“Too often briefs can become really prescriptive, and the reason that you might wish an artist to get involved with the project is to actually break free of some of those prescriptions and to think in a different way to bring a unique perspective. So, it’s no good if you actually tell them how to be thinking, what’s the point of that?” Megan O’Shea, Contemporary Art Society 

At Creative Land Trust, we are delighted to be working with Paint the Change as part of our award from the Mayor of London’s High Streets for All Challenge. In the run-up to the activation of Alice Billings House as a new complex of studios and public facing events space, this project will use art and culture to engage and give voice to local communities while creating a sense of interest, intrigue, engagement, and excitement that animates Stratford High Street. 

Something that distinguishes these projects is the early engagement of artists and creatives. Providing workspaces and opportunities for artists to thrive, can preserve inspirational environments, and support high quality design of space that protects, and enhances a sense of place. These examples help to demonstrate the positive contribution of creatives to our built environment, encouraging more collaboration across sectors.  


About the author

Gemma, Head of Development at Creative Land Trust.

Gemma Dean focuses on developing the property pipeline and supporting growth through impact investment strategies. Her career spans the real estate finance industry having previously worked on European commercial transactions in banking, restructuring and advisory roles at international firms based in London. Throughout her career, she has championed sustainability strategies and provided business and development advice to arts organisations in London.