Uncovering a vibrant underground art scene, Maynard Design has designed a wayfinding system that breaks the rules and responds to its environment, curating a destination that connects local art and culture with wider audiences.
As London’s most recognised and completely legal street art tunnel, Leake Street links Lower Marsh with the South Bank, and has made its name as a democratised cultural venue for both practicing and amateur creatives. Now known as Leake Street Arches, the LCR development project brings eight former railway arches back to life, making way for a curated collection of independent restaurants, bars and performance spaces.
Uncovering an Underground Art Scene
Leake Street’s creative history can be traced back to the early 21st century’s thriving underground street art scene. It was the famed, pseudonymous Banksy who hosted a 2008 exhibition named the Cans Festival on Leake Street itself. Back then nothing more than an abandoned former Eurostar railway arch beneath Waterloo station, the three-day festival transformed the tunnel overnight into a buzzing cultural hub for graffiti and stencil artists.
Democratised Creative Space
The Leake Street Tunnel runs beneath Waterloo Station and the dismal, abandoned site was for years an easy route for taxis picking up passengers; it wasn’t somewhere you’d linger after dark. Despite its reputation as home to two iconic early Banksy works, it wasn’t until a re-run of the original Cans Festival, ten years later in 2018, that the desolate tunnel faced a flashpoint of creative resurgence.
Graffiti has long been an art form that champions freedom of expression. Jon Savage in his 1992 history of punk writes of street art as “a secret code, the voice of the underdog.” Now a permanent, and importantly legal, graffiti space, Leake Street is a site regenerated to facilitate this democratised art form. Accessible to anyone bold enough to take their creative hand to the tunnel’s walls, the site is a canvas that eternally regenerates.
Breaking the Rules
No two visits to Leake Street are ever the same, with floor-to-ceiling works of art seamlessly finding form overnight. An always-dynamic site requires responsive signage, and Maynard’s end-goal was to develop a wayfinding strategy that reflected Leake Street’s constantly evolving space.
The tunnel’s signage was designed to withstand its urban environment and to embrace the challenges faced by a graffiti tunnel. Working within a democratised creative space, the signage breaks the rules and can be spray painted over; principal features of the wayfinding, including the map, are constructed in 3D blocks which remain visible when sketched over. Additionally, illuminated signs increase information legibility and accessibility to the site. Capturing a cohesive visual voice for the arches, explored in a sensitively muted colour palette and creative use of perforated materials, Maynard’s wayfinding is designed to blend into the tunnel’s creative canvas.
Connecting Local Culture with Wider Audiences
LCR’s redevelopment vision leads a trend in converting abandoned railway arches, which organically lend themselves to creative re-imagining. Derelict arches across the city, from Southwark to Bethnal Green, Bermondsey and Shoreditch, are in the process of transition to housing innovative new creative venues, exhibition spaces, independent bars and restaurants.
Noting the successes of the creative Laneways redevelopments in Fitzroy, not far from our own Melbourne studio, Maynard aimed to increase awareness and access to the Leake Street Arches through innovative wayfinding. Now an inclusive, family-friendly venue, the Arches are an inviting member of London’s buzzing art scene. Just a short walk from Leake Street is London’s South Bank, an area with a rich cultural history, home to the National Theatre, Old Vic, BFI and Hayward Gallery, to name only a handful. Maynard’s vision was driven by a desire to seamlessly connect the arches to the inherent culture of the South Bank, and to amplify the artistic voice of a site that needed revealing through unconventional, rule-breaking signposting.
The Leake Street Arches remain a dynamic, constantly evolving site. An exemplar creative space democratically ‘owned’ by the artists, the tunnels will continue to regenerate long after Maynard’s creative mark is left behind.
Words by Zac Procter, Designer