Building Sights

Ever wondered what’s happening on a building site?

VIEW was an adapted shipping container designed to give the public a view over a building site in west London.
Photo and scheme by Duffy

Building Sights was set up by CABE and Arts Council England in 2002 to encourage all those involved with the construction of new building – from client to building contractor – to make the most of the process in getting the public on board. And, from an arts point of view, a great way to build new audiences.

Building Sights was all about seeing the potential of a building site for understanding how buildings are made, and how architects design and use materials for different types of buildings.

Getting people involved in a new building from the moment it goes on site builds a sense of ownership and enthusiasm. So, Building Sights encouraged people to visit a site – either in person or virtually – and find out exactly how the building was being made.  

The Building Sights website was designed for all those involved in a construction project: clients; contractors; developers; architects; and engineers. It showed them why it was a good idea to get people involved and provided practical advice on how to safely open up a building site to the public – and make it interesting.

Some of the ideas were:

  • decorate the hoarding: for many months the site hoarding will be the only thing that passers-by see – why not use it as a blank canvas to promote the building?
  • cut hole in the hoarding – why not cut portholes into the hoarding so that people can peer into the site?
  • build platforms so that people can see into the site – a more sophisticated way to giving people a view into the site
  • train webcams on interesting parts of the site – an excellent view of the site  but without having to think about health and safety, and with visitors from all over the world
  • organise regular public tours of the site – getting local people to understand the building process and put questions directly to those in the know: an excellent way of generating excitement about the finished project.

Case studies

The Building Sights website included 12 inspiring case studies, full of original ideas, ranging from the New Art Gallery Walsall to the ‘Hairy Hoarding’ in London’s Oxford Street.

Public tours of the New Art Gallery began as soon as it went on site and continued throughout construction. Extremely popular, they were led by the architects, builders, gallery staff and even a local publican. A viewing gallery was constructed in a Portakabin on the site – home to talks, parties and breakfast meetings over two years, together with an interactive model, plans and photographs.

The ‘Hairy Hoarding’ project cleverly conveyed the idea of the metamorphosis that takes place when a retail space is fitted out – like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. The main construction site was on the first floor – so how to let the public know that all this activity was going on above their heads (pedestrians) or alongside them (on top of a bus)? Hypertext wrapped around the first floor level explained artwork at street level that illustrated the process of transformation: hairy, cocoon and wing.

The Building Sights Award

The Building Sights Award ran for two years to encourage creative thinking around making the most of building sites. The New Art Gallery Walsall won the award in 2002 and The Telford Smart Box Project the following year.