A conceptual River Quaggy flows in glass round the courtyard of a new building in Catford.
At first glance, the completion of a new building in Catford seems an unlikely subject for a QWAG news item. But the Kaleidoscope Centre for Children and Young People, which occupies the old site of Prendegast School, has an unusual link with QWAG. Adorning the glazed panels encircling the courtyard is a set of ‘manifestations’ (drawings) based on the flow of the River Quaggy through Lewisham Borough.
Early this year, artist Pip Al-Khafaji, who had been commissioned to design the artwork for the courtyard, was searching for inspiration. Passing through Quaggy Gardens, she noticed QWAG’s interpretative sign and the concept was born. QWAG granted permission for Pip to use the copyrighted designs and nine months later her idea has become a reality. In an ironic twist, the manifestations seem certain to outlast the sign that inspired them as Quaggy Gardens appears destined to be buried under tarmac by the currently proposed Lewisham Gateway development.
The Kaleidoscope Centre, which opened earlier this month, is situated at the north (Lewisham) end of Rushey Green. It is a five storey U-shaped building which features a courtyard facing onto the main road. What makes the building stand out is the use of glazed panels along the exterior of the ground floor skirting the courtyard. The conceptual River Quaggy flows in glass around the courtyard, mirroring its real counterpart’s journey through the borough.
Unsurprisingly the manifestations bear little resemblance to the original designs. Pip explains the transformation process. “The Quaggy design went through several stages but, throughout, the theme of the river – the energy of moving water, flowing right through the Borough – was paramount. In keeping with the rather gritty life of an inner London borough, the accompanying motifs changed from the romance of natural flora and fauna to industrial buildings, transportation and sports – all emblems that London teenagers would happily identify with.”
The younger children from Meadowgate Special Needs School also drew inspiration from the River Quaggy for the design incorporated into the mosaic plaque seen in the background, created by local artist Steve Wright.
Although the concentration on the ‘gritty’ side of life in Lewisham is understandable and may be more relevant to local teenagers, the result as a whole is less representative of the true nature of the Quaggy in the borough. Locally occurring flora and fauna on QWAG’s interpretative sign are no romantic flights of fancy. Anyone who knows the river in Lewisham well will be aware just how pervasive the presence of wildlife is, even in the most unpromising locations.
It can be argued that the manifestations celebrate the domination of man over nature – a viewpoint prevalent from the Victorian age until recently. But, as reported in our previous news item Heart and Soul of the City (1st November 2006), prevailing attitudes are changing. From South London to South Korea and beyond river restoration in urban areas is very much the order of the day.
But no river can be restored once it has been lost altogether. And by a strange twist of fate the Kaleidoscope Centre has another unusual link to Lewisham’s river network. Because the event that caused one of the first and most significant losses to that network happened here 150 years ago. Check out the website for the full story soon.
QWAG would like to thank the staff at the Kaleidoscope Centre for permisssion to photograph the interior of the building.