David Lemm: Mapping King's Cross island

Maps, symbols, and the changing shape of the King's Cross development - through our Illustrator in Residence's eyes

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  • David Lemm
  • Illustrator in Residence

In the past few weeks of my residency, I’ve been thinking about public information maps in specific environments. TFL have theirs distributed around London and I was interested in the ones placed around the King's Cross development by the developers - obviously, with a new place being built, it is important for people to know where they are.

So I set out to walk again, but this time with more purpose in trying to find the maps. I also hoped to get a sense of how the development site surrounding House of Illustration may have changed in the few weeks since my last visit.

I was briefly distracted from my map quest by the adjustable playground apparatus in Lewis Cubitt Square. I had been thinking about the playground in Caledonian estate from last month, how playgrounds are designed and the idea of play within the environment - urban or otherwise. Beside the playground pieces, a curved plateau rose out from the perfectly manicured grass - itself a subtle invite to interact directly with the landscape?

I’ve been working with paper since I got back to the studio. I really enjoy the tactile nature and process of creating a physical object as well as an image. Perhaps this process reflects the idea of play that has been rolling around in my head.

As I walked from the park, I started thinking more about an environment where everything is made - either from scratch, or recycled like in the Skip Garden, and the contrast between natural and man-made forms/materials in the environment.

The development sort of feels like a man-made island to me.

I popped into Urban Nest on the way past, to enquire if I may be able to get a look at the site from their top floor - the highest point of the development. Disappointingly, I wasn't allowed up, so I walked on.

I wandered around to the sports court where I found a mock-up of a piece of Gasholder 8, which is currently being built on the other side of the site. With its highly polished finish, it appeared otherworldly amongst the building works and I imagined it as some sort of futuristic sacred object or portal.

Beside the mock-up, there was what appeared to be a continuation of the old railway lines drawn on ground, with a pictograph man in the middle to suggest it as a footpath - except it didn’t go anywhere.

The tracks around Granary Square are almost like the numbers and routes found on the old sea charts I’ve printed on in the past - graphic records of defunct routes and systems.

It was interesting to see these markings alongside markings made by the builders, also next to the sports court with its geometric markings defining the rules of a few different games to allow for multiple activities or meanings.

I saw the signage for where the Skip Garden had previously been, evidence of the changing environment and ad-hoc nature of the garden. I then spotted some bricks which had been pleasingly stacked in a random composition last month and are now a part of a wall. The chaos of the site is slowly becoming organised, the materials re-arranged.

I wandered to Pancras Square and noticed there were no maps, even though it’s the most built-up area which you can’t see out of. Does this mean “You must know where you are” - or “Why would you want to go anywhere else, everything you need is here”?

Obviously it’s easy enough to just walk in and out, but I thought this was interesting and an example of how maps, or the lack of a map, can be used to subtly influence how we experience a space.

The last map I noted from this walk was along the canal at St Pancras lock. It really feels like you are on the borders of the island here, with the canal creating the coast, and Gasholder 8, Tapestry and Plimsoll buildings looming overhead, cliff-like.

By the canal I spotted an official looking symbol which I’d also seen further along the canal on a bridge. It’s probably something really obvious and ubiquitous, but I love the idea of symbols, codes and knowledge systems surrounding us, in which meaning can be easily read with the right pair of eyes, but otherwise go unseen and unknown.