Louise West: Designing the Lace of Nottingham Contemporary

For our tenth anniversary, lace designer, Louise West, reflects on her experience of creating the lace design on our building's facade.

In 2006, when I had just started doing a BA (hons) in Textile Design at the University of Derby, I was approached by Caruso St John with an enquiry to work on the lace design for the panels of the Nottingham Contemporary, initially known as CCAN, Centre for Contemporary Art, Nottingham. Little did I realise how big a project this was to be!

Initially the architects asked for me to recreate the antique 1847 machine-made Valenciennes Lace in handmade bobbin lace, in 5mm cord at 10 times the scale of the original. At this stage I had no experience of Valenciennes lace, although I had a wide experience of Bobbin lacemaking. Research was undertaken to ascertain the methods used in the handmade Valenciennes, as recreating machine-made into handmade needed some adaptations – the machine was after all a copy of the original style of lace. Samples were made and then it was discovered the problems that this would cause in the production of the concrete panels and the design process switched to digital processes.

Many hours were spent in digitally manipulating the edging design into a design which is seen today on the building, before using a laser cutter to produce one pattern repeat, almost a metre wide and 70cm long. This laser cut pattern was then sent to Germany to Reckli for the textured mats to be produced for casting.

The mats came back to Nottingham for the concrete panels to be cast by Trent Concrete at Colwick.

The 93 concrete panels, up to 11metres long and up to 11 tonnes of concrete on each panel.

I watched the installation of one of the panels and photographed the process, using the crane to lift each panel over the building, into position. A difficult process and one that had to be created by Trent concrete, due to the difficult location of having a tram line running alongside where you needed the panels to be!

(Lots of photos taken in the space of an hour, taken for each panel installation. Very precise handling to get the panels into place.)

I was thrilled to have been involved with such a prestigious project which had such an impact on the landscape of Nottingham, and loved seeing the resulting panels from the design work I created. My passion is the handmade bobbin lace, from which I have now built my business around, the designing, making and teaching of the Heritage Craft of Bobbin Lacemaking, and this now takes me internationally, teaching many students annually. I also run classes in Nottingham, Derbyshire and Leicestershire on a regular basis and visit many groups giving talks. I have also developed and introduced a new innovative method of producing lace patterns, an idea which was sparked during the design process in 2006.

For more information see www.louisewestlacedesign.co.uk and social media.