Talk to Me

“Talk To Me” by Steuart Padwick, part of designjunction 2019, in support of Time to Change. Image: Daniel Shearing

“Talk To Me” by Steuart Padwick, part of designjunction 2019, in support of Time to Change. Image: Daniel Shearing


Ramboll. Alan Dowdall.

Alan Dowdall

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Martin Burden. Ramboll

Martin Burden

Consulting Director, Buildings
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Brogan MacDonald

Brogan MacDonald

Graduate Engineer
M: +44 7814 760 380
Will Harrison

Will Harrison

Graduate Engineer
M: +44 7814 760 264


Multi-award-winning British designer Steuart Padwick once again teamed up with Ramboll and Time to Change to create two monumental interactive sculptures that tower over visitors to Kings Cross, London, in a bid to further the conversation about the capital’s mental health.

Titled ‘Talk to Me’, the sculptures are part of designjunction at the London Design Festival 2019. As passers-by approach the interactive giant cuboid wooden figures, a proximity sensor is triggered, and they begin to voice poignant and uplifting words written by notable poets, writers, actors and mental health ambassadors. These conversations start to crack the ‘burden’ block to release a glowing light.

‘Talk to Me’ is an inspiring piece, reminding us that through communication with one another the weight so many of us carry, can be lessened. 

Following Padwick’s ‘Head Above Water’ sculpture for designjunction 2018, members of the project team were reunited for this year’s installation. Providing their expertise pro-bono, Ramboll addressed the many structural design challenges and Hoare Lea designed the sound and lighting. 

Steuart commented on the reunion “Once again Ramboll has come to the rescue with their expertise, professionalism and relaxed, reassuring approach.” Alan Dowdall, Ramboll Associate, reciprocated “Ramboll is delighted to be collaborating with Steuart on another inspiring and thought-provoking piece. As a pledged ‘Time to Change’ employer, the message on communication and mental health resonates with us and our commitments to change our industry’s attitude and behaviours for the better.”

Bringing the figures to life

Ramboll’s technical ability and experience in timber design rapidly drove the design forward to ensure the 3 tonne sculptures could be delivered and erected within an hour, whilst minimising any disruption to the area. A composite design of steel and timber was chosen as this allowed the figures to be pre-fabricated into manageable sections that could easily be transported, bolted and connected in a fast, simple and safe manner.

Constructed in sustainable Douglas Fir timber to convey a warmth and humanity, the figures are in stark contrast to the strict cuboid shapes and concrete looking burden blocks. To achieve Steuart’s artistic vision, the burden blocks required a translucency which could not be achieved using standard aggregates. HI-MACS, an innovative composite material panel was used with the cracks in the cubes routed down to allow light to seep through, creating the desired effect.

The structural analysis was broken down to a simple stick model that accounted for the structural stiffness for both the timber and steel. The below sketches show how the structural design developed. Each figure consists of a pair of flitch beams with a vertical steel plate sandwiched between two glulam timber sections running from the base to the torso, providing inherent rigidity and stability. The glulam connections are artfully concealed in the figure by utilising steel through bolts and flitch plates in the torso, arms and head. 

Drawing on our knowledge and experience of sculptural installations at Tate modern, specifically Olafur Eliasson’s 36ft-high waterfall and Franz West’s sculptures, the structural solution for ‘Talk to Me’ includes a base plate design. Comprising a grid of steel beams and additional ballast of sand, concrete pavers and gravel, the base provides enough weight to resist worst case wind forces and human interactions, keeping the figures safely in-situ.

Longevity and adaptability of the sculptures were also considered in the design of the plates which can be modified or removed to suit future installation locations. 

Having worked on more than 15 sites within the Kings Cross regeneration development, Ramboll’s knowledge of the site and industry connections helped Padwick deliver the project within the tight 12-week programme. 

Steuart Padwick said: “Many of us carry issues and burdens that hold us down and hold us back. For some, these are crippling, and for some they even lead to taking their own lives. These burdens can start so young and appear insurmountable, unresolvable. But often, communication is the key to unlocking the journey forward.

“Even when the burden is not overtly holding them down it is rarely far away. That is why one piece has the burden clearly on the shoulders, and with the other sitting piece, the burden is to one side – perhaps forgotten for a moment but always near.”

Jo Loughran, Director, Time to Change, said: “We know that being open about mental health, and being ready to talk and to listen, can change lives. We’re thrilled to be supporting ‘Talk to Me’, which will act as an unmissable reminder of the power of hearing and being heard. You don’t have to be an expert to talk – just being human, empathetic and caring is enough.”

Watch the build of “Talk To Me”, by Steuart Padwick in support of Time to Change, below. Film by Jake Pitcher.

Head Above Water

For designjunction 2018, Steuart Padwick created ‘Head Above Water’. The 9ft head symbolised hope, bravery and positivity for those who’ve fought a mental health battle and those who are still fighting one.

Viewers engaged with the sculpture through Twitter with their comments causing its lights to change colours, reflecting how participants felt in real time. Find out more here.


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