Head Above Water by Steuart Padwick

As part of the London Design Festival and designjunction, British designer Steuart Padwick’s sculpture ‘Head Above Water’ made a dramatic change to the London skyline in support of mental health. Hoare Lea collaborated with Steuart Padwick to create a lighting scheme to engage and inspire.

photography: Dan Paton

Head Above Water by Steuart Padwick, lighting design by Hoare Lea, photography: Dan Paton

Taking the form of a giant wooden head elevated above the Thames on Queen’s Stone jetty (aka Gabriel’s pier), the 9-metre high interactive sculpture stood as a symbol of bravery, compassion, positivity and change for those who have come through or are confronting mental health issues.

Head Above Water by Steuart Padwick, lighting design by Hoare Lea, photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

The British designer/sculptor, Steuart Padwick said, “Head Above Water is a symbol of hope. It needed to be big, powerful and prominent … a beacon of humanity caring for others. This is not my head or about my battles. This is for those who have or have had mental health issues … I want anybody and everybody to relate to it … to open a door perhaps …” 

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

At night, Head Above Water was lit and people engaged with its changing colours to reflect how they are feeling through a designated Twitter feed – in real time. Dr Sally Marlow Phd, Engagement and Impact Fellow, The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (loPPN) at King’s College London advised on the changing colours, based on the research, study and practice of psychiatry, psychology and related disciplines by the loPPN team.

Hoare Lea ’s Lighting Design specialists were the masterminds behind the lighting scheme. Head Above Water was able to interact with users via social media, acting as a barometer for London’s wellbeing. Emotions and moods were sent to the sculpture via Twitter. This triggered representative lighting scenes, allowing observers a unique level of interaction with the piece, creating a two-way interactive experience with Head Above Water triggering and receiving states of mind. 

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

The technology and scripting behind the sculpture was also developed by Hoare Lea to anonymously log the interactions. These will be collated to show the emotional state of the audience over the course of the installation – in turn this information will be discussed and interpreted by psychologists and mental health professionals to assist their research.

This captivating piece of public art supported Time to Change, the nation’s mental health anti-stigma campaign. One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, yet many people report being misunderstood by those around them. Time to Change used the dynamic platform created by Head Above Water to challenge negative attitudes and stimulate public perception and understanding around mental health.

“Head Above Water is a fine emblem of what we all hope for: a healthy, creative, compassionate mind”, comments Kevin McCloud, Designer, TV Presenter.

photography: Dan Paton

photography: Dan Paton

Juan Ferrari, Senior Associate, Hoare Lea explains: “A powerful presence on the London skyline, Head Above Water engaged the city in the conversation about mental health through the use of coloured light linked to emotions. The installation provided an artistic platform and a valuable space for people to discuss and participate with such a vital subject.”


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