Three lots of scaffolding in Fitzroy Square W1

Colour and Contiguity: Trends in urban scaffolding

Colour and Contiguity: Trends in urban scaffolding

Key learning points

  • Why scaffolding is a threat to urban environments
  • How scaffolding impacts on pedestrians and commuters
  • Scaffolding as art: Why scaffolding makes London interesting
  • The key characteristics of scaffolding installations, and the ‘Law of Two’
  • Scaffolding colours, and the potential political significance of coloured netting

When scaffolding goes up, buildings come down

I never thought about scaffolding until the block of flats where I live was covered in scaffolding, and then swathed in green netting. If I ever did think about scaffolding, I probably found it a) ugly, and b) inconvenient. Scaffolding conceals local landmarks, and sometimes steals them away. When scaffolding goes up, often perfectly usable buildings come down. Look what happened to 1-3 Goodge Street. The Georgian facade was meant to be preserved, but when the scaffolding went up, the facade became unstable. Another example is the the Time Out building in Tottenham Court Road, in Camden, London. Earlier this year the scaffolding went up, and the building came down.

Scaffolding occupies pavements

For pedestrians, scaffolding is a potentially dangerous obstruction. It takes up valuable pavement space, which in densely populated areas is fiercely contested. Scaffolding pushes pedestrians into the gutter.

Pavement cordoned off because of scaffolding

Scaffolding occupying the pavement in Great Portland Street, London W1, 28 August 2015

Scaffolding interrupts daily routine

The worst, or the best thing about scaffolding, is that it obliges people to change their routine. Scaffolding requires pedestrians to devote precious brain power to working out an alternative route to work. This means quitting auto-pilot, looking up from your smartphone, and taking stock of your surroundings. For those accustomed to following the same route to work every day, finding a different place to cross the road is unimaginably stressful.

Group of yellow jacketed builders waiting on a street corner

Stressed builders trying to find a different place to cross the road, Charlotte Street, London, W1.

Scaffolding is what makes London interesting

After spending the entire summer dodging scaffolding, I have had a revelation. Scaffolding is the new urban art. The growing number of scaffolding ‘installations’ in Camden and Westminster is something to celebrate. Scaffolding is guerrilla art. Scaffolding is what makes London interesting.

Scaffolding and blue hoarding with graffiti

Scaffolding and hoarding with graffiti in Tottenham Street, W1

Behavioural characteristics of scaffolding

Learning to love scaffolding has made me more observant. Scaffolding is site specific, and is tailored to the building that is about to be demolished or refurbished. While no two scaffolding installations are alike, there are two behavioural characteristics that are common to all scaffolding.

Scaffolding covered in blue netting

Scaffolding covered in Marylebone blue

The Law of Two: Where there is one scaffolding installation, another cannot be far away

Scaffolding grows close to other scaffolding, and indeed, needs to be close to other scaffolding to thrive. It is an inexorable rule that where you find one scaffolding installation, you will find another one close by. Contiguity is a key characteristic of scaffolding. Examples of twin scaffolding installations can be found in Cavendish Street and Tottenham Street. Note how scaffolding on both sides of the street creates a kind of dynamic tension that strengthens the street presence of both installations.

Scaffolding on both sides of New Cavendish Street

Scaffolding on both sides of New Cavendish Street, W1 – notice how each installation reinforces the presence of the other creating a dynamic tension across the street. A scaffolders’ lorry parked in a busy street can significantly increase the tension.

The colour of scaffolding

Secondly, when it is complete and mature, scaffolding develops a cover of netting that blocks out all natural light. The netting seems to have a number of practical and decorative purposes. The netting protects the builders from the elements, and it reduces the amount of stuff falling on people below. Health and safety considerations aside, the netting brings a welcome  touch of colour to drab London streets made drabber by the August rain.

Three lots of scaffolding in Fitzroy Square W1

Blue and green scaffolding in Fitzroy Square, London, W1

Is scaffolding political?

In the days before scaffolding in Hanson Street, I never noticed the colour of the netting. After 14 weeks of observing scaffolding, I have noticed a colour trend that may have political undercurrents. All the netting in Hanson Street is green. The dominant colour in Fitzrovia is, by and large, green. In neighbouring Marylebone, where the cost of property per square foot is significantly higher, the colour of choice seems to be blue. Could scaffolding colour schemes have some kind of political significance? There are a number of exceptions to this rule. For example, on the west side of Fitzroy Square (see photo above), currently there are three scaffolding installations: two are covered in blue netting, and one is draped in green. The blue scaffolding appears to be performing a kind of pincer movement. Further research is needed.

The colour purple

Recently there have been sightings of scaffolding covered in netting that is purple, and even, white. Something is going on here.

Scaffolding covered in purple netting

Purple netting overlooking Regent’s Park, Outer Circle, London, NW1

Scaffolding covered in a white material

Scaffolding covered in white, corner of Tottenham Street and Whitfield Street, Camden, London W1




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