Military precision at Medway’s Chatham Placemaking Project

20th November 2018

The vision for the Chatham Public Realm as a whole was to create an area with a strong sense of place, well connected, and easily accessed to be enjoyed by all. To achieve this, iconic features were used to form wayfinding and anchor points, as well as small scale landmarks within the town centre. This allowed users to feel safe and secure whilst visiting the town centre.

With a proven track record, having been used for similar public realm projects in the area, Hardscape was brought in to deliver the iconic artscape features for the design from its facility in the Midlands.

A team effort

Public Art Consultants Francis Knight were appointed by Medway Council to work on the Chatham Placemaking Project, a £4 million government funded project to help regenerate Chatham. Francis Knight commissioned Lead Artist Christopher Tipping to deliver the permanent public art works for Chatham Town Centre as part of the public realm improvements. Working closely with LDA Design and Project Centre, Chris contributed to the masterplanning, detailed design phases, materials palette and embedded art works.

The brief

The main aim of the public realm project was to upgrade the route from Chatham Station to the Waterfront. This included pedestrian and cycle routes as well as crossing points, upgrading paving materials, improving steps and ramps, opening up the public realm and streamlining access and pedestrian permeability. The idea was to keep the area lively, whilst encouraging further use by all generations.

Local schoolchildren and people working in local businesses were asked for their comments and input to the scheme. The design team listened to their stories and set about translating the ‘sound’ of their lives in words depicted ultimately in a circle of words at Military Square. The brief sought to create an overwhelming sense of common ownership in the project and the execution certainly proved to do just that.

Which materials were used?

The artscape process is reflected in the production techniques, with flamed Kobra granite being the predominant choice. Medway Council had already specified this material for adjacent public realm works in the town, so it was key to ensuring continuity. The Kobra granite was sandblasted with text or water jet cut and inlaid with text in Royal White granite. Additionally, honed Kobra granite was sandblasted with text on the risers at St Johns steps. Project Centre and LDA, the project consultants and engineers for the scheme, considered qualities such as robustness, value for money and sustainability, as well as the aesthetics of the materials. These were all considered important factors during the materials selection process.

In Military Square itself, an installation of 400 bespoke radius-cut artscape monolithic blocks of granite were set into a 17m diameter circle, putting a circle of words at the centre of Military Square! 154 of these granite blocks have words, numbers & patterns sandblasted or inset into the surface with just over 400 words in total. Kobra granite was at the heart of the project creating bespoke pavements and kerbs so often overlooked within the public realm.

These specific contrasting granites, Kobra and Royal White, as used in previous schemes, defined the parameters and route through the scheme and became the focus and delineation of the artwork trail.

Chatham challenges and standout features

Keeping the client on board and engaged with the public art element of the scheme proved to be a challenge but one that brought together all the resource and ingenuity of the client team!  Hardscape hosted a factory visit too so that the client team could see the quality of the work and the manufacturing processes and additionally allowed the team to film the visit, which has since contributed to the Chatham Placemaking Film.

Final inspection and marching on to the future

The Chatham Placemaking project has ultimately opened up pedestrian access and widened the streetscape, improving the quality of the public realm in the process. Working with a lead artist benefited the design of the scheme immensely and added that extra layer of research and context, which has contributed so successfully to placemaking. There are future proposals to add to the current scheme by delivering the proposals for the public realm in and around the forecourt and approaches to Chatham Station.

Inspired by the local language, including age-old proverbs and colloquialisms, the unique artscape features enabled the landscape architects to truly capture the voices of Chatham, by quite literally ‘setting them in stone’ for all to read for years to come.

Client: Medway CouncilPublic Art Consultants: FrancisKnight; Lead Artist: Christopher Tipping; Landscape Architects: LDA Design; Contractors and Engineers: Project CentrePaving materials and Artscape supplier: Hardscape