Coal Drops Yard
Layers on layers
Once the epicentre of the UK’s coal industry and later the city’s thriving nightclub scene, Coal Drops Yard is an iconic space in the heart of London. A key site in the regeneration of the King’s Cross area, it was redesigned by Thomas Heatherwick and opened to the public as an exciting new retail concept in 2018.
The walkways around the buildings of Coal Drops Yard are centuries old and – unsurprisingly – a bit gloomy by default. And while these dark corners and tunnels have an incredible history, they could feel quite unwelcoming to people coming into the area for the first time, or shoppers wandering around the space.
Argent, (the site’s developers) commissioned us to create a public installation that would celebrate the fascinating heritage of Coal Drops Yard, that also reflected the creative, experimental personalities of the shops within it. Something that would engage visitors and draw foot traffic by encouraging people to explore the natural route of the installation.
Shortlisted at the Design Week Awards 2019
When it came to the history of the area, we were already pretty well versed. As part of the official retail launch, we had designed a book for Argent called ‘Coal Drops Yard in Six Stories’ – a detailed account of the Yard compiled by historian and author Dr Jacqueline Riding.
It was pretty fascinating; the buildings of Coal Drops Yard had quite literally stood the test of time in one of the city’s most central districts. Starting out at the coalface (pun entirely intended) of Victorian London’s industrial trade route, it went through a number of rebirths over the years, culminating most famously perhaps as a 90s clubbing mecca. And long, long before that, it had been the site of some major mythological events, such as a famous battle between Queen Boudicca and the Romans.
With all this information at our fingertips, we decided to create an installation based around the idea of history being built up in layers – because although the site might not look the same as it did in the beginning, the stories will always be there.
We chose the palimpsest as a medium for telling this story, as it’s a form of artwork that physically layers different visuals on top of one another, to complete a fuller picture.
In total, we created 44 palimpsests for the installation. Each one told its own unique story, but when viewed together it created a historical narrative, that invited visitors to journey from the days of Boudicca, through the industrial revolution, to mud-wrestling at notorious nightclubs in the decade before the millennium.