10 Minutes with Catherine Halcrow

Several new display structures were recently installed around Great Malvern as part of the Route to the Hills project.  Leading design specialists Outside Studios produced these monoliths after consultation with local partners in the preceding years.  Catherine Halcrow, Creative Director of Outside Studios took some time out from her busy schedule to answer questions by Simon Berry about the work.


Catherine Halcrow (centre) with members of the project Management Group

Catherine Halcrow (centre) with members of the project Management Group

Q: What reaction from the public are you hoping for the new display structures? 

Well we hope people are pleased to see them, and even better, that they find the information interesting, enjoyable and/or useful!  

 Q: Who do you expect to look at the signs? 

Well local people know their way around, so we don't expect the map information will be vital to residents, but we'd like to think the stories and images will be interesting to everyone, reminding people what an interesting town Malvern is. The map sides on the signs also carry pointers as to the next wave of Route to the Hills installations, which will be going in between now and the spring, so there's some clues that might be of interest to all of them too! Visitors and tourists should find all the information useful; we hope everyone from shoppers to theatre goers to walkers will look and feel inspired.

Q: How did the idea for the monolith structures come about? 

 Well the Route to the Hills project is focused on a notional route through the town, so it made sense to include some map type information.  We shared examples of similar structures and everyone involved found simple, modern and “clean” signs attractive - but we were all also into the idea of making them storytelling structures.

Q:  Who decided what to include on them?

 Dozens of people have been involved in identifying stories to represent Malvern. These stories group into interesting themes covering geology, the town's extraordinary scientific heritage, the medieval town, the Victorian town & the Water Cure, the festivals and Malvern as an inspiration for countless writers, painters and musicians, and . Those themes were the basis for planning out the stories to go on each sign.

 Q: Who produced the writing and the artwork / graphics?

As the designers, Outside Studios started the process off, although many more people than you might realise fed into the content of these signs, because we used lots of books written by local experts as source material.  The project has been steered by a committee representing the ten project partners; everyone on that committee has been hugely helpful in linking the work up with Malvern's experts, in particular members of the Project Management Group, who have put in many hours of hard work to help us make these the best they could be. 

 Q:What are they made of and how long did they take to construct and install?

 The signs have a steel frame sunk into sockets embedded in concrete. The panels look like bronze to blend in with, and complement, the lovely Malvern stone used throughout the town - but bronze is prohibitively expensive, so we used aluminium panels and coated them with 'Verometal'. This is a very thin painted on coating which contains bronze, and gives a similar effect, without busting the budget. Those signs were then lacquered to prepare the surface for print, which were printed on a state-of-the-art printer, and re-lacquered to protect the design. The process began in May 2016 but production only began in earnest in July 2016 after a period of testing and checking samples. From the 'green light' to installation was therefore around four months, but some of that was waiting in a queue for ground works to be fitted in!

Q: Will they survive the winter in Malvern? 

I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes!  Actually they are very solid signs; they will last normal outdoor wear and tear (including English weather!) for 15-20 years. 

 Q: Did installation in Malvern present any particular challenges?

 As locals will be aware, Malvern is quite a hilly town!  It hasn't been possible to find flat locations for all the signs, and neither was it possible to safely create flat surfaces for readers - for example to make a flat platform for the sign on a very steep site at Rose Bank Gardens we'd have needed such a big bit of terracing it would have turned into a big, barriered balcony - and would have blocked much of the access gate.  All the locations have been debated at length -  so we're confident they are the best available solutions...but yes, the gradients were a factor!

 Q: What did the Outside Studios team think of Great Malvern?

 I can honestly say we were pretty amazed at the quantity and quality of stories centered on the town. Lots of places do projects a bit like this, celebrating their local heritage, but you might find only one or two themes of such quality in most places, compared with Malvern which has five genuinely fascinating and nationally-significant ones. This, combined with the enthusiasm of the project partners, to develop a very distinctive and quirky design style to fit with the town's very independent and quite alternative personality, has made it a great project to work on so far. 

 Q: What other projects have Outside Studios been involved with? 

We've done some work at Kew Gardens and Westonbirt Arboretum with similarities to this project. We were the designers on the interactive Science Garden at Thinktank, Birmingham.