Installation Case Study: A pinch in time
An eye-catching public artwork on Greenwich Peninsula in London features customized porcelain tiles
Greenwich Peninsula is a district of southeast London, England, within the borough of Greenwich. The peninsula, formerly known as Greenwich Marshes and Bugsby’s Marshes, is bounded on three sides by a loop of the River Thames. On the northernmost point of the peninsula on the riverside, there was a vibrant piece of public art recently installed, which adorns the exterior of a building on Millennium Way.
“A Pinch in Time,” which was commissioned by the Greenwich Peninsula and NOW Gallery, was designed by Pascal Bronner and Thomas Hillier, founders of FleaFollyArchitects in London, England. “‘A Pinch in Time’ is FleaFolly's first foray into the world of public art,” said Hillier. “Conceived as part of the ongoing Peninsula regeneration, this new work takes inspiration from the surrounding rich and industrial context within which it sits.
“We created an overlaid pattern using circular motifs from the area, such as the Blackwall gas tower, the Millennium Dome and the Great Hall of Queens House, which we then colored, scaled and manipulated to create a vibrant form imbued with the past,” the architect went on to say. “We wanted to create a bold and distinctive pattern across the 9- x 6-meter (about 20- x 30-foot) wall, but also wanted it to go beyond a flat tiled mural to create something with a more spatial quality that would not only surprise the passer-by but change across the day under different weather conditions and when viewed from different perspectives.”
Hillier and Bronner utilized about 50 square meters of generic, 20- x 20-cm white porcelain tiles from Portugal, which were then customized with a colored design. “Our hardest task was finding a supplier who could print our pattern directly onto the tiles with the vibrancy and clarity we wanted,” Hillier explained. “After much research, we worked alongside Liverpool-based, Tile Fire, which digitally printed each of the 1,250 tiles with our layered pattern, each of which was one-of-a-kind.”
The centerpiece of the mural, a 3- x 3-meter fiberglass mold, forms a literal “pinch” that pulls the tiled skin out and away from the building, creating the extruding form. The three-dimensional element was crafted by Articole Studios, a Welsh-based fiberglass fabricator with experience making props for theater and TV. “Fiberglass moves very differently than standard tiling substrates so we had to find a product that was highly flexible and could adhere to fiberglass,” said Hillier. “This was a surprisingly difficult task. Fortunately, Ardex had just released a new product, a two-part polyurethane resin called PU Flex, which was designed for fiberglass. It was so new it wasn’t in the shops yet so we had to get it directly from their factory, which they generously supplied free of charge.”
FleaFolly tiled the wall alongside local tiling specialist, Colin Barber, owner of Colin Barber Tiling Co. in London, England, on the installation. “As with most FleaFolly projects, we wanted to be part of the fabrication process,” said Hillier. “It’s important for us to not just be the designers, but also get involved in the making. To this end, we tiled the three-dimensional ‘pinch’ ourselves. Fortunately, Colin Barber was on hand to take us through the process and was very patient with us; it was certainly a very steep learning curve.”
“I advised and then oversaw their work, but they did a great job and needed only a little guidance,” said Barber. “The fiberglass section was both concave and circular. During the initial discussions, I advised this was very demanding to adhere tiles to with certainty both because of the material and the curvature with this dimension of tile. The support of Ardex in supplying the urethane adhesive was a game saver and it is a remarkable product. I will thank Peter Digby of Ardex in helping on this.”
The tiles were adhered to Knauf’s Aquapanel Cement Board Outdoor, a render substrate and drylining board connected to a steel frame, which was designed to create exterior walls that withstand extreme weather conditions. “The elevation is in a windy area so we had to advise the best possible consideration be given to the formation of the background for the tile work,” said Barber. “The tile fixing and grouting was all done using Ardex products [from the UK] — Ardex Microtech X77 adhesive; Ardex-Flex FL flex grout and for the protrusion part formed of GRP (fiberglass); and the new urethane adhesive, Ardex X 60 PU Flex. Ardex ST silicon in ‘Ocean Grey’ was used for the movement seams.”
Although there were some weather delays due to unexpected snow, the entire project came together in about one month, after about nine months of groundwork, including designing, client sign-offs and tile sample testing. “I’ve only heard good things so far,” said Hillier. "I think the overriding reaction has been a positive one, with people quite taken aback by this notion of having a tiled mural that is not flat, something that seems quite unique.”
“A Pinch in Time” mural
Architect: FleaFolly Architects, London, England
Tile Supplier/Fabricator: Tile Fire Ltd., Liverpool, England
Tile Installer: Colin Barber Tiling Co., London, England
Installation Products: Ardex, Haverhill, Suffolk, England (Ardex Microtec X 77, Ardex-Flex FL, Ardex X 60 PU Flex, Ardex ST); Knauf USG Systems GmbH & Co. KG, Dortmund, Germany (Aquapanel)