The permanent installation “Born to be Wild,” which was designed by NEON, is in the centre of Keepmoat’s Cable Wharf development. The public and residents are encouraged to climb, sit, and walk through it.
The project has been built on top of the buried remains of the Grade II listed bear pit, which was once the main attraction of the Victorian gardens that were there in the 1800s. English Heritage said that the old bear pit structure should be reburied to keep it from getting damaged by weather and erosion. In response to this unique history, NEON used the lines of the archaeological drawings of the historic building to define the shape of the sculpture when seen from above. The shape of the art was then made to gently curve to look like a structure made of tree branches, which bears often live in and move around. People can playfully interact with the sculpture in the same way that wild bears do. The freedom to interact with the artwork in this way is meant to make us think about how animals and people will live together.
Born to be Wild is 10m by 12m and stands up to 2.4m tall. Steelline made the piece of art in 10 pieces that were bolted together on-site. The piece is made of 316 Stainless steel and was painted with marine-grade epoxy paint to ensure it will last. A lot of thought went into the design of the foundations, which were made to be shallow so that they wouldn’t damage the old Bearpit structure below. Elliot Wood made the piece of art.
Mick O’Farrell, Regional Managing Director at Keepmoat, said: “It’s important to us that we celebrate the local history of our sites and their surrounding areas, which is why we’re excited to open ‘Born to be Wild’ to the public at Cable Wharf.
“The art installation has been much anticipated amongst residents at the development and locals in the Northfleet area, and now it is ready to be admired and enjoyed.
“The area is steeped in so much history, inherited from the site’s rich industrial heritage, and we’re thrilled to celebrate this and hope that the artwork can be enjoyed for generations to come.”
Mark Nixon of NEON said: “We have really enjoyed developing a project for an area so steeped in history. We were keen that this project might allow the public to understand what lies beneath their feet while also providing an engaging, functional and interactive experience. A key component of the project’s success was engagement with the local school children from Rosherville primary school who encouraged our team to make the sculpture even more wild!”
The installation is part of a larger plan by the landscape practice ARC to keep the history of this part of the River Thames, which was once abandoned, alive. In addition to this, the strategy includes redeveloping and preserving the industrial cable works of WT Henley, the Rosherville Gardens, the caves in the chalk cliffs, and the area by the river. Residents and visitors to Cable Wharf can learn more about the site’s historical importance thanks to the installation of interpretation boards, wayfinding markers, street furniture, engraved paving, and paving art along the river front.
Adam Knight, Regional Managing Director at Keepmoat, South Midlands, said: “The art installation was originally commissioned to ensure the heritage at Cable Wharf was preserved and based on its popularity within the local community, we believe this has been achieved by the team NEON with the public artwork commemorating the historic bear pit within the Italian garden.”
Client: Keepmoat Homes
Location: Northfleet, UK
Status: Completed 2022
Engineers: Elliott Wood
Landscape Architects: ARC
Photography: Simon Anning