Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Hang On A Minute Lads, I've Got A Great Idea"

With Ken White snapping a picture on the left and artwork designer Mike Pringle in the red, the assembled crowd of officer workers, Alexander House tenants and BMW staff look on.

I like to think that Mike Pringle, the designer of the artwork that now adorns the side of Alexander House, said the above phrase before sketching the plan for the design!

The much talked about artwork was unveiled by a couple of abseilers in appropriately windy conditions just after 11am this morning. It was heartening to be amongst a big crowd, with media, councillors, office workers, the Mayor and Mayoress, the designer Mike Pringle, Swindon legend Ken White (had a great chat with him whilst we waited), plus a lot of passing shoppers down below in John Street, along with a few Community Support Officers. Everyone was snapping pictures.

The second mini can be seen in it's blue cover on the roof.

The artwork is easily the biggest piece of installation artwork in Swindon and is instantly recognisable. 

The question now, is what will be the next piece of public art in Swindon, and which building will it go?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : The Mary Celeste, Faded Glories & The Last Day

The perfect day to be up on the roof.

Today's visit to the former Swindon College site at Regent Circus was what we'd been waiting for. After painstaking work by the asbestos team, the main building is now safe to access and there was only one place to go when arriving, to the roof!

A perfect day and a great location gave a view for miles around. Back inside, we methodically went through each floor, working our way down. Any former students will remember the floor and room numbering system at Swindon College, for example, I had Environmental Science in 4.16, which was on the 3rd floor, as the ground floor were numbered '1'. Each floor had it's own colour too!

Room 4.9's room timetable from week commencing 3rd July 2006. Anyone recognise the staff names? Who took Entry English on Wednesday evening?

A few rooms had their classroom timetables still in place behind perspex on the room outside. Did you have a class in room 4.9 in that last week of it's use in July 2006?

On the stairwell, at each half-landing was a large piece of student-produced artwork, which are all intact and still in-situ! I did retrieve a piece of artwork on an office wall that was also remarkably undamaged, more of that in a later post!

The view towards the half-landing between the 3rd Level (2nd floor)  and the 4th Level (3rd floor). Do you remember the mural of the countryside? 

The library is much smaller than I remember, but the red carpet is still there and apart from some missing ceiling tiles, debris and graffiti, the structure looks solid enough.

The silent study area of the library.

Does anyone remember the careers library? That small room on the right when entering the library, it now has a grand view of the workshops demolition happening right outside.

Anyone need careers advice?

The main building is the eeriest of all to walk through, most likely because of it's size. We also got a look in the hall and Vincents Restaurant (the refractory). More pictures of those soon-to-disappear spaces in the next few days.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Swindon's Murals Make Right Royal Return

A new mural to Swindon's best-kept-art-secret collection has just appeared in the town centre! Above an office on the corner of Temple Street and Commercial Road, it's full of colour and has a royal theme.

In the sun, against a blue sky, the colours really stand out.

Swindon needs a new generation of murals, on houses, walls and offices. Who's with me?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : A Sign of the Times

Have you seen the time?

 For the first time in over 50 years, the residents of Edmund Street will be able to tell the time from the Town Hall clock.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : Victorian Glory

One of the two big decorative windows on the main staircases.

Tucked away at the edge of the Regent Circus site is the original Swindon Technical College building, next to Victoria Road. There's two great things about this building : It's not being demolished and, it's an absolute gem.

This is the view directly behind the big red doors that face out onto Victoria Road.

It's got some cracking features, including the main entrance doorway, the stained glass windows and the sweeping staircases. Plus, it's got all the signature pieces you'd expect in a Victorian building, gabled windows, high ceilings and decorative brickwork.

The spacious Burkhardt Hall, with it's grand wooden floor and views out over Swindon, did you have lectures here?

Home of BA Graphic Design Year 3.

The Victorian heating grates on the floor, with the 1960s door on the left and the 1990s white board on the right.

Right now, it's slowly faded into the background, with missing tiles, there's the constant drip-drip of water getting into the building. But out of all the buildings on the former Swindon College site, it's the single one which shall be restored for use.

The ground floor walkway between the Victorian building and the main 60's block was demolished this week.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Swindon's Regeneration : An Historical Document

When were you last asked to turn off your mobile phones and pagers?

This image I posted last week, from inside one of the workshops being demolished on the former Swindon College Regent Circus site, passed me by slightly.

I didn't read, or take any notice of the mention of 'and pagers' in the warning.

How quickly we forget old technology!

Swindon's Regeneration : You Are Starting Here

Demolition of the former Swindon College Regent Street site from Edmund Street.

For a world that's increasingly experienced online, with events seen through a glass-look screen, regeneration is refreshingly different.

The Swindon College sign clings to the wall for a short time longer.

You can produce shiny websites and exciting, eye-catching artist's impressions of grand plans, but you've still got to physically build the project.

For those residents of Edmund Street coming back from work tonight, their view and street has quickly changed.

Until that physical activity happens, all those expectations and plans mean little.

Bite-sized chunks taken out of the roof, with the town hall clock tower in the background.

The demolition of the former Swindon College began last week and the residents of Edmund Street are currently getting a grandstand view. The view of the workshop buildings will just be a memory in a few days, as they're the first structures on the site to come down with the demolition.

Our regeneration starts here, in unassuming Edmund Street.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Part Two - Neasden Night

Road 32, with a new train on the left and an original train on the right being cleaned for the morning service.

Stepping from my Jubilee Line tube onto a deserted Neasden station, not long after midnight, the second part of the day was just starting.

Arriving at London Underground's Neasden Depot, like Bombardier's Derby site, the place is massive. Getting in, out of the rain (the frequent good omen!), I met Dan Jones, part of the Bombardier team at Neasden. The weekly delivery of a shiny, new S Stock train from Derby was scheduled for the evening of my visit.

The line map seen through the window of one of the 1959-built trains

With the rain pouring down, creating a thunderous sound on the roof, I stayed inside for picture taking!

A collection of other recently-delivered new trains were in stages of commissioning before being put into service. A steady stream of trains arrived in the cleaning roads and a team went through making them ready for service in the morning. This gave a chance to compare the old and new fleets as they stood side-by-side.  

Original brake-pressure gauges made by Westinghouse in the original A Stock trains.

The original 'A Stock' trains are a world away from the new 'S Stock' that's replacing them. First introduced in 1959, they have luggage racks for umbrellas and briefcases and the dials and controls in the cabs feels like stepping back to another age, not a computer screen in sight!

An A Stock train looking slightly worse for wear. The entire fleet will have been replaced by the end of July.

At around 2am, the newest train from Derby arrived, being pushed into the depot by two screaming diesel locomotives. These two engines, and the barrier vehicle (needed because the coupling the underground trains use doesn't match that of trains on the national system) were disconnected and pulled out of the depot quickly. Since the Underground is entirely electrically powered, Neasden doesn't have an extraction system for fumes from diesel trains and quickly the shed can fill up. 

The newest Derby-built Bombardier S Stock train to arrive at Neasden for use on the Metropolitan Line.

The Bombardier team discussing that evening's delivery just before arrival.

Immediately, the team swung into action, dismantling the length of hose that ran the length of the train, on the passenger cabin floor, (that provided the air brake pressure on the journey from Derby), and checking the parts sent from Bombardier.

One of the pallets inside the doors of one the cars, with the air-brake hose being removed.

Each car of the train had a pallet immediately inside the doors containing all the parts required for fitting the 3rd rail collection shoes to allow the train to pick up the electrical power to run. 

I took pictures inside the new trains, in the cab of the old ones, and even from underneath, in the inspection pit.

That pipework I had seen at Derby earlier in the day? Here's what it looks like underneath a soon-to-enter-service train. Never to be seen this clean again!

Imagining Neasden would be full of a team buzzing around, barely able to stop for a chat, it had a lot in common with what I'd seen in Derby earlier that day. Everyone knew exactly what time the trains had to start leaving for the start of morning service and Dan knew how many trains he was responsible for providing to the Metropolitan Line each day. There was no sense of panic, Bombardier and London Underground have got the overnight job at the depot down to a T.

With that evening's delivery on the left, the train to the right is nearly ready to run along the length of the line on it's 'rattle test' (to make sure everything works and no panelling or other fitting rattles).

The original power controller handle on the A Stock 
The modern equivalent on the S Stock

 I left for home, 24 hours after waking up, reflecting on the impressive teamwork, commitment, passion and skill involved at Derby and Neasden. From train building to service running, these people keep the UK running.

Part One - Derby Day

The upside-down under frame of a London Underground Metropolitan Line train car being assembled at Bombardier's Litchurch Lane plant in Derby.

I promised more pictures and details of my day and night at Derby and Neasden, a little late, but here we are!

Bombardier's Derby plant is vast, covering 100 acres and, as is the way with the start of new projects, it was pouring with rain. Met by Bombardier's Internal Communication's Manager, Kathryn Lancaster, we dodged the showers and headed inside one of the many sheds where the production line for the London Underground's S Stock was.

What it's all about. The 'S Stock' train on the left is for the more spacious 'surface' underground lines, whilst the one of the right is for the deep 'tube' Victoria Line. Each train is capable of carrying over 1000 people.

The production stages I saw included the roof assembly (turned upside-down, making fitting of components easier), the underframe assembly (again, turned up-side down), then the body shell panels and at the north end of the building a completed underground car.

Work on the coupling at the north end of the production line.

Coming from Swindon, it was strange to actually get the chance to see trains being built. My mind kept wandering back to the Works site in Swindon and wondering if things had been different, where people were buying discount designer clothes in the Outlet Village that wet morning, trains could have been under construction.

Bright workshops with bold colours.

A couple of things struck me. Firstly, the workshop is clean and brightly coloured. The flooring is multicoloured, denoting safe areas to walk, areas vehicles can drive along, space for pallets and workspaces you need permission to walk into. All these colours mix with the yellow of the jigs and overhead cranes, the red panels of the trains and the plastic drawers with the smaller components behind. It reminded me of Lego, bright shiny colours bringing your attention to something being built. 

The Bombardier name is elusive, even on the finished trains.

The second thing was something you couldn't see (not great for a photographer you might think!). Everyone we spoke to and saw, even just walked passed was friendly and chatty. For a factory that employs 1,600 people, that's a great feel to have about the place. The atmosphere was old-fashioned, professional but welcoming, something you don't really think would exist in such a big place. The whole place exuded a pride. Pride in the work, what was being produced, the weight of history from all the building and generations that had gone before. Pride in who they were, where they were and what they were doing.

I left Derby with great admiration for train building and the city itself. 

The pipework for the underframe, partly assembled on a large board for each traincar. 

From the cab of a new train, being signed off by London Underground's representative at Derby, with the daylight peeping through the doors.

Heading back to Swindon on a Derby-built Voyager, I had a chance for a few hours rest and then it was onto London.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Swings and Roundabouts

The artwork project for Alexander House has started!

Consisting of a couple of fibreglass minis and road-markings, the back of the town centre office building will become very eye-catching!