Visual artist Yinka Ilori has been named as the winner of a competition to revitalise the Thessaly Road Railway Bridge: an initiative to improve the public realm around Nine Elms organised by the London Festival of Architecture and Wandsworth Council. The bridge enhancement will be accompanied by the first phase of Wandsworth Council investment to improve Thessaly Road as a key transport route.
Yinka Ilori’s Happy Street proposal is the artist’s first public realm commission, and is scheduled to be unveiled in time for the London Festival of Architecture in June 2019. The project is a key part of Wandsworth Council’s work to transform the gloomy underpass beneath the Thessaly Road Railway Bridge into a bright and welcoming environment for existing communities, pedestrians and cyclists, on a key route between Wandsworth Road and Nine Elms Lane.
Happy Street is an interactive and multi-sensory installation that floods the underpass with colour, light and scent to create an ever-shifting and stimulating experience for everyone who passes through. The walls of the underpass will be clad with brightly coloured panels, using enamel powder to create a low-cost, durable and reflective surface. At night the underpass is illuminated with different colours, combining safety with a desire to bring a sense of cheerfulness and delight to a hitherto ordinary environment.
Yinka Ilori has sought to encourage users of the underpass to become more aware of environment around them – for instance in the bright colours that reference the spectacular Thames sunsets that residents of Nine Elms can enjoy. His design for the underpass was one of six exhibited on the railings of the nearby St George’s C of E Primary School and across the wider local area. In empowering its young people to engage with and shape their local neighbourhood, the school’s student community proved avid participants in the public consultations held earlier this year.
Yinka Ilori’s proposal was the favourite among local residents, school children and other members of the public who took part in these public consultations. Yinka will further develop the design through a series of public engagement events so that it can be installed as part of the 2019 London Festival of Architecture, subject to all the necessary consents.
As well as consultation with local residents, the competition was judged by an expert panel, including Pam Alexander (chair, Covent Garden Market Authority), Amy Frearson (editorial director, Dezeen), Morag Myerscough (founder, Studio Myerscough), Clare Richards (founder, Ft’work), Anne Mullins (Head of Culture, HS2), and Tamsie Thomson (director, London Festival of Architecture).
Yinka Ilori is a London-based artist, specialising in the imaginative upcycling of vintage furniture. Inspired by the African influences of his childhood, Yinka’s work spans the divisions between art and design, blending Nigerian traditions with contemporary design while sparking a conversation about social norms and consumer culture. Earlier this year the London Festival of Architecture announced that he will also be working alongside Pricegore to create the second Dulwich Pavilion, which will also be built in time for the 2019 London Festival of Architecture.
Yinka Ilori tells us “I am very excited to have won the competition and can’t wait to work with the community to bring Happy Street to life. I am very grateful to the LFA team and the local community around Thessaly Road for believing in Happy Street and am looking forward to bringing the rainbow to the underpass. This is a very special project with a very special community and I feel honoured to have been given this opportunity”
Tamsie Thomson, director of the London Festival of Architecture, adds “The London Festival of Architecture uses its profile and platform to improve London by harnessing the city’s amazing architectural and creative talent. Yinka Ilori’s wonderful proposals demonstrate how a relatively simple concept has the power to transform places and people’s lives, and I’m so pleased that Wandsworth Council have shared our vision with such enthusiasm. I cannot wait to see the transformed Thessaly Road when it is unveiled in 2019.”
Councillor Steffi Sutters, Wandsworth Council cabinet member for community services and open spaces, said: “This is a hugely exciting project to improve and rejuvenate a local thoroughfare. As well as bringing innovative art and colour to the street that will be enjoyed by all, I know that the local schoolchildren will be very happy with Yinka’s bright design as they find the underpass dark and scary in its current state. I’m really looking forward to seeing the design come to life over the next year and thank all the local residents who took part in helping us to get this far.”
A video segment looking at the journey behind the competition and Yinka’s winning proposal for the transformation of Thessaly Road railway bridge was also filmed in partnership with Nine Elms, St George’s C of E Primary School and South West London TV, and is available to watch here.