Head Above Water

The sun rises over Head Above Water after reaching structural completion © Daniel Shearing/Stora Enso/Ramboll

The sun rises over Head Above Water after reaching structural completion © Daniel Shearing/Stora Enso/Ramboll


Ramboll. Alan Dowdall.

Alan Dowdall

T: +44 7870 809 244
Damian Westlake. Ramboll

Damian Westlake

M: +44 7870 808 176

Raising awareness of Mental Health

Jutting out into the River Thames from Gabriel’s pier stood Head Above Water, a 9-meter-high, interactive, Cross Laminated Timber sculpture. Creating a dramatic change to London’s skyline its intention was to provoke discussion to end mental health-related stigma and discrimination. Designer Steuart Padwick teamed up with Mind’s Time to Change campaign and created the sculpture to be seen by millions during London’s DesignJunction Festival.

As a signatory of the Time to Change Employer Pledge, Ramboll was delighted to provide pro bono expertise to help realise Steuart Padwick’s vision. Using digital design that was undertaken concurrently to the site investigation, the team were able to fast track the process and create the sculpture in just 15 weeks from concept to installation. Putting this into perspective, the manufacture alone would ordinarily take 12 weeks.

Alan Dowdall, structural engineer said; “The design of the sculpture presented several interesting engineering challenges. There was no existing information available about the pier, so a key part of the design process was to understand the capacity of the existing structure and, by doing so, define the maximum height limit of the sculpture.”

To achieve the programme dates, the design process needed an approach that could fast track the design output and allow completion of information that could be used by timber supplier, Stora Enso, for production purposes. 

Head Above Water began as a model clay head, sculpted by Steuart. It developed into a wooden piece made from cross laminated timber (sourced from PEFC certified forests) and is a model of sustainable smart design and build. The clay model was imported into a parametric model allowing several iterations of the design to be completed and reviewed with the design team in quick succession.

More about Head Above Water’s digital design can be viewed on the Ramboll Blog.

The ‘Head’ was deliberately gender, ethnicity and age neutral and stood as a symbol of hope, bravery, compassion, positivity and change, for those who have come through or are still confronting mental health issues, and the people who support them.

Steuart Padwick says: "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."

At night Head Above Water’s lighting displayed the mood of the city. People were encouraged to interact with the sculpture and tweet their feelings and emotions. By tweeting #HAWLdn then #(one of the Head’s 14 emotions) the lighting would change its colours to reflect their mood. For example #Hope made the head shine purple and blue. Consulting engineers and lighting design specialists Hoare Lea were the masterminds behind the lighting scheme.

This stunning structure has now been relocated to Northfleet Transhipment Centre. Here it will rest with vegetation encouraged to grow around it - a symbol of recycling, rejuvenation and mental health awareness.

A truly collaborative venture

More than 100 individuals and organisations joined forces and worked pro-bono to deliver Head Above Water. “The great legacy from this project is the incredible camaraderie of professional people coming together wanting to do something amazing for the benefit of others.” Comments Steuart Padwick. “It’s in all areas where people are at the top of their game and I hope that one of the long-lasting things is the connection between all of us. For me it has been an absolute privilege.”


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