Walls, Walks, Waves… What Will You Find?

22 August 2019
Claire Hector

Arc and our R&D arm Artecology were at the Island gateway, East Cowes, yesterday for a meeting in our past HQ, the beautiful Deco Columbine Building. We took the opportunity to check on some of our collective turn-of-the-millenium public art, nature and heritage commissions there. Just on the Columbine doorstep and around the corner from the Medina Vertipools , there’s the Cowes Boat Trail, the fun Eccleston George frieze & The Catch, a striking enamel triptych by Michael Forrest. There’s one of the Glynn Roberts’s story-sculptures just alongside too and if you head past the supermarket and car parks towards Castle Copse (great example of net gain – more on that another day!), you can still spot the carved community poems in the walls and paving there too.

It’s an interesting reminder of, and counter-point to, the current London-look of smooth, reflective walls, glassy shops and cafes where you really only see yourself or what you’re being asked to consume, and those new acres-wide, parched and paved expanses labelled public spaces.  It’s a shame because walls, walkways, pavements and any public areas with some ‘grammar of ornament’ or local content gift us decoration, interpretation and that now-missing free stimulation…a catch of your eye or texture to touch, a spark to your brain, learning or inspiration, and an extra reason to keep walking or stay awhile, all while leaving your phone in your back pocket.  And of course, it’s not all about us!

Walls for wildlife

That London-look is not only smooth and reflective, it’s just plain sterile and all a bit selfish really… there’s often nothing going on but the rent! Not a great look for our new National Park City nor a way to help address those loomers, biodiversity loss and climate change. The same goes for our sea walls and esplanades. There’s rightly global concern about the effects of the plastic tide but there’s only a handful of organisations (and we’re one) addressing the concrete tide. The good news is that walls, walkways and where the waves meet walls are starting to be designed to work harder.

Arc and Artecology work on making places that work for wildlife and that are healthier and more interesting for people, and often with waves, walls and walkways in focus – from ecological enhancements that help to create ‘living’ sea defences, reseaching and developing artificial habitats to planning housing developments or even community-designed biograffiti!  Artecology is amazing on aesthetics and that grammar of ornament (thanks Owen Jones!) while we make sure that we pack in ecological density wherever possible. The team are also supporting a number of universities on related research projects.

Nature is opportunistic and resourceful and it makes use of these new places we create for it, as long as we remember to offer them lifecycle services!  It’s rewilding in a way and it’s everyday wildlife in particular we’re interested in.  The result can be high-functioning and beautiful hotspots, ‘punctuated interventions’ set at deliberate intervals that may be small in size but add up to a whole impact for that biodiversity bottom line.

So if your walls, ends of walls, corners and walkways are interesting, textured, niched, artful and planted with genuinely useful plant palettes, if you are making space for, building-in and so boosting biodiversity, and if you bring in links to local content and to your new or existing neighbourhoods, you’ll be creating net gain for your new infrastructure or development, market diffrentiation and help with planning. But better still, you’re building social capital, natural capital, wildlife encounter, cleaner air, cooler walks, increased wellbeing, local distinctiveness and legacy… a sustainability win win!  Put simply, where there’s a wall and a will, there’s a way.

Well, I think that’s just about enough alliteration for w-one day…

Below are snaps (entitled ‘More Walls from a While Back!’) from a few of our more community-angled projects.

Artecology Gatekeeper Biograffiti Wall, Newcastle. Designed for and with a local youth charity in 2015, it’s still the first of its kind as far as we know!  Partners included the Crown Estate, Streetwise and the Wildlife Trust.

Walls for invertebrates & corners rewilded in 2014, part of our work on a Dorset social housing estate with Ventnor Botanics & Sovereign Housing.

The East Cowes Vertipool artificial rockpool array at the entrance to the Medina River or to the Solent, depending on your point of view!  They’re visible at low tide from the Cowes chain ferry when the waves roll back.

For more on our projects integrating green-grey infrastructure, Artecology et al, do get in touch. And for more on Vertipools, there’s an excellent film made by ace visiting UWE student Kris Ceuca.