The heart of UCL Engineering is the Roberts building, a Sixties tower housing hundreds of academics, labs and students all working to change the world. For somewhere that produces so many new ideas, however, it’s pretty old-fashioned. UCL Engineering is sponsoring a competition for students and alumni of the famous UCL Slade School of Art to create 10 storeys worth of artwork that will inspire and illuminate the nature of engineering at UCL. The winner will leave their mark on the building for years to come, get a kick-start in their career from a major project, and hopefully spark a cascade of creativity all the way from the Electronic and Electrical to the Chemical Engineering Departments.
The head of the Slade and the Dean of Engineering, with advisors, whittled down the project submissions to a shortlist of 5. Each of these artists is hard at work with the £200 they have been given to develop their submission further, and hoping to be the winner of this commission and the first prize of £7,000. Second and third prize winners will also receive a cash reward of £2,000 and £1,000 each respectively. So who are these artists, and what is their vision for engineering art?
What made you enter this competition?: The scale and the venue. It is a great opportunity that one can design ten walls. They can be seen as a wall and a series of walls at the same time because of the nature of the stairwell. The modern outlook of Robert Building is attractive, too.
What concepts do you want to bring out in your final piece?: My work includes many drawings. I think drawings are important in the science and engineering field. Doing the research for this commission, I was fascinated by the drawings in UCL collection. My idea is to show them in very large scale in an everyday scene since they are normally kept in the database or glass cabinets in exhibitions now but they originally belong to daily life.
What have you discovered about engineering while working on this submission?: The Faculty of Engineering has many departments which conduct diverse studies. They help improve our life in practical ways but their plans, maps and photographs are often beautiful as they are. That motivated me to start this work, and I enjoyed a lot re-drawing what I have found in UCL collection.
How do you hope this commission will contribute to your career?: In conceptual ways, it will enrich my ability to do art work based on my research. It is important for me as my work always starts from my observation in everyday. In practical ways, vinyl printing would be a good experience to produce large scale 2D works and covering all walls in the stairwell would be useful for designing large spaces.
What made you enter this competition?: I am interested in Machines, the Systems that support and create. How they work, what makes up their bodies. I have always had a fascination with machines. It felt close to me, my inner wishes to escape into this wonderful world.
What concepts do you want to bring out in your final piece?: Connect to its environment. Praise the research, energy and machines that make our future. All this together as heads in a totem. Spanning every floor, a system exerting energy released at the top. Immerse the viewer, a spatially imposing work.
What have you discovered about engineering while working on this submission?: I have learnt about all the research on-going at UCL. Engineering has an aesthetic of its own and if used this will create new exciting artwork. One example is Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) which is simulations of fluid dynamics, a digital model is put under simulated natural conditions. The outcomes of this environment on the design are represented visually through a variable colour spectrum and Stream Ribbons. As images they are very beautiful. I am currently on the Engineering course in Mechanical Engineering as my subsidiary for this term.
How do you hope this commission will contribute to your career?: In the future I would be very interested in developing artwork for commercial and industrial locations. In order to achieve this ambition, winning this competition with my proposal will be an important step forward. It will mean that I have recognition from an Engineering department and the architecture firm Wilson Mason. This artwork will be seen daily by staff, students and visitors to UCL; the exposure afforded by this key location is huge.
Could you describe what made you enter this competition?: After my first visit to the Roberts Building basement workshops I was taken in by the visually fanatical looking inventions, tools, diagrams on boards and expanse of the brightly coloured wires and pipes running throughout the space. It seemed like such a visually wonderful exciting colourful place to work with.
What concepts do you want to bring out in your final piece?: My proposed mural aims to reflect and embrace the age and style of the Roberts Building’s architecture and 1950s design. The inspiration comes from the colours and forms of 1950s graphic design and science textbook symbols and graphics. The bold colours and shapes in engineering equipment and wires have also been a source of inspiration. The design is bold and playful but also elegant in its clean-cut design. This will ensure the stairwell stays fresh and imaginative, which echoes the forward, creative imagination of the developing minds that will be working in the building.
What have you discovered about engineering while working on this submission?: Technically, not a lot but visually I feel quite fluent. I spent a lot of time in the science library researching the vast array of visual diagrams and symbols and graphs that are used in all areas of engineering. The history of drawing and line is very full in this area. Studying drawings and diagrams as the preliminary translation between a creative thought into a visual realisation is exciting as it captures the raw moments of creative/scientific developments and those ‘eureka’ moments.
How do you hope this commission will contribute to your career?: The commission has been very important to me because, aside from the prestige of possibly having my design showcased over 10 floors of the Roberts Building in UCL, to be shortlisted allows the experience of working and engaging with art on a large scale. My work is increasingly engaging in the public realm and so the experience of this project would widen my portfolio to allow for future proposals on a similar scale.
Could you describe what made you enter this competition?: My previous art practice and interest in science has led me to apply for this competition. In my work I deal with systems of knowledge, language and signification. My constant concern is with the relationship between perception and reality, between the ability to see something and the ability to represent it. My work takes the form of large-scale drawings, sculpture, photographs and installations: it explores the nature of understanding through scientifically constructed systems and free associative thinking.
What concepts do you want to bring out in your final piece?: For Roberts Building Main Stairwell, I am proposing images that refer to fundamental phenomena and characteristics of the natural world; for example, the historical development from simplicity to complexity seen in life-forms, which is posited by the theory of self-organization. In the image no. 2, a simple geometric shape evolves through stages into a more complex polygon with more sides.