Brent Cross Town substation. Credit John Sturrock; Brent Cross Town substation. Credit John Sturrock;

Brent Cross Town substation, London

Turning the new Brent Cross Town substation into a giant public artwork

A colourful ‘wrap’ around the sustainable energy substation at Brent Cross Town has created the largest permanent public artwork in the UK. The new substation will be critical to realising the town’s ambition to be net zero carbon by 2030, providing clean power for homes, offices, retail and leisure spaces. This reflects how Brent Cross Town, one of the largest urban regeneration projects in Europe, equally prioritises environmental, social and economic outcomes – driving sustainable development. It is the first of many projects that Arup is supporting across Brent Cross Town, as a long-term partner to Related Argent.

Project Summary

100tonnes of embodied carbon avoided

6,700new net zero homes powered by substation

6millionpeople will see artwork every year

© Jason Hawkes

Launching a new gateway for Brent Cross

Arup led the design team for the substation, which is wrapped in a 52-metre-long and 21-metre-high artwork, created by London-based artist Lakwena and architects IF_DO. Taller than the Angel of the North, it sits in a prominent location, next to the busy junction between London’s North Circular Road and the M1 motorway and adjacent to Thameslink railway lines and the new Brent Cross West station. As many as six million people will see the work every year from road and rail alone. Titled ‘Here we come, Here we rise and shine’, the artwork reflects the ambition to inspire and bring people together in the local community.

Not only will this iconic large-scale artwork put Brent Cross Town on the map, but it also showcases a talented London artist, and wraps an important piece of sustainable infrastructure that is key to meeting Brent Cross Town’s aspirations to achieve net zero carbon by 2030 – this really is green innovation and creativity at its best. ” Councillor Barry Rawlings Leader of Barnet Council

Powering Brent Cross Town’s net zero carbon future

The sustainable energy substation is critical to Brent Cross Town achieving net zero carbon by 2030. It will supply electricity to the whole town, including 6,700 new homes, 3 million sq ft of offices and new retail and leisure spaces. It will also power the town’s district heating and cooling centre, created with Swedish energy company Vattenfall. This will be low carbon from the outset and net zero by 2030. It includes the largest air source heat pump in Europe. Brent Cross Town will source all electricity within its control from 100% renewable sources. Located in the open air, the substation benefits from natural ventilation, reducing operational emissions.

It would have been easy to take the more traditional route of enclosing the substation in a nondescript box and to miss the opportunity that is now so evident. Instead, we have demonstrated that even the most functional pieces of infrastructure can play an important role in defining place and lifting the spirits.

Nick Searl Partner at Related Argent

How do you design and procure for steel reuse?

Working with a forward-thinking client, Related Argent, we used circular economy principles to deliver a net zero substation. 42.5% of structural steel was salvaged from unused oil pipelines, cutting embodied carbon of the steel frame by over 40% and saving 99.2 tonnes of CO2e. Bringing together experts from across Arup – in structural engineering, procurement, research and technology – we engaged early with Cleveland Steel to identify suitable steel available for reuse. Arup and Bourne Group then incorporated these into the design and specification, IF_DO and the client encouraged the specification of reused steel, and contractor Galldis procured them – a whole team, collaborative success! The concrete used is a combination of low-cement concrete and new Earth Friendly Concrete, a cement-free alternative. This saved up to 33% and 70% of embodied carbon respectively compared with mixes that do not use any cement replacement. Using digital tools, we designed lean, minimising materials use right from the start.

Brent Cross Town’s substation presented a unique opportunity to be part of a project which equally prioritises environmental, social and economic factors – driving sustainable development. By choosing materials based on their carbon impact, reusing materials and reducing waste, we’re proud to have met this challenge with circular economy principles and deliver a net zero substation for the development. ” Ben Glover Ben Glover Energy & Waste Buildings Leader

Greening urban infrastructure projects to rewild our cities

The project has also brought back to life a piece of brownfield, ex-industrial land, adding a biodiverse embankment designed by landscape architects Gillespies, with Arup advising on ecology and sustainability. Newly planted trees and a wildflower meadow provide a natural setting for the artwork, as well as increasing site biodiversity, enhancing local wildlife corridors and tying in with the wider network of green infrastructure within the masterplan and surrounding area.

Brent cross town substation with meadow. Brent cross town substation with meadow.
A biodiverse embankment made up of newly planted trees and a wildflower meadow provide a natural setting for the artwork. © John Sturrock.