Hail that Taxi at Heathrow airport by Steve Thomas-Emberson

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    There are many ways a work of art comes into being. It can be private or corporate patronage, or just for the artist’s own private pleasure. When we concentrate on corporate patronage this also can be for many things and ego being at the top of the list! For Heathrow Terminal 2 Departures lounge a totally different reason came into play. If we were going to have a work of art at all it had to say something about Britain and London. I call this “Sense of Place.” It had to be iconic and known not only Brits but also the whole world.

    The company that won the contract were iconic in themselves as they are known all over the world for designing airport interiors, The Design Solution based in London were the preferred choice. I was their “Art Consultant” on this project and part of an extensive team. The team looked at Telephone boxes, the Mini – now made in Germany, and many other items that were British. For my part I always fancied a car. In the Eighties BMW had a group of international artists “decorate” a range of their cars as one-offs. Art on wheels, which are now worth millions of dollars. After much brainstorming the team chose the London Taxi, it ticked all the boxes, well known, British, and it was the right size to go centre stage in the middle of the departure lounge. It also had that essential quality “Sense of Place” as it was British and Transport. It was a stroke of genius on the team’s part.

    Who was going to interpret it as a work of art and how? There was another critical design element that had to be taken into account was as a basic box shape it would make lines of sight for information boards, terminal signage not to mention the shops virtually impossible. The choice of artist was critical. Kevin Patience, Associate Director at The Design Solution and the projects lead designer takes up the story. “A variety of ways to portray the centre piece were investigated. All the methods had one theme in common – the piece had to be striking and at the same time not visually blocking. The first idea was to create the piece in solid glass effect acrylic. This was too expensive and would way over five tonnes. We decided to commission Benedict Radcliffe, the artist who specialised in working with 10mm steel rod to create 3 dimensional line drawings of automotives. The stand out concept for us and for Heathrow the client was to commission Benedict to create a linear design of the London taxi to be painted in the orange of the cab light. This process of making mock-ups, and prototypes took several months until we finally came to Benedict working on the final piece, fine tuning and hand finishing prior to it being sprayed. The whole process took five months.”

    The creative process did not finish there, there was the plinth. Not only did this have to act as a display for the sculpture but also a safety barrier. Several ideas came up but the preferred option was a glass balustrade, which in turn lead to another problem – glass has to have marks on it for it to conform to building regulations. The answer, and a touch of genius, was to create the “Knowledge” route in a graphic form, as you would find in the Taxi driver Blue book configuring the artist’s studio to Heathrow airport as a route, displayed round the plinth.