Put a ticket on that!

Parking problems solved in Swindon for these Minis which form part of a new mural in Swindon town centre.

Town becomes a centre for urban art again as cars drive up side of office block in search for parking space

swindon urban artThe town was famous in the 1970s and 80s for its collection of outdoor murals decorating the gable ends of houses in different neighbourhoods; now it will become well known for having BMW Minis driving up and parked on the top of Alexander House serviced office centre in Fleming Way.

Owners Lenta Offices saw the possibilities of drawing attention to the building in 2009 after Swindon Link published a picture of the stark white building on paper and online inviting readers to send in ideas for giving it artistic makeover.

Photoshop treatments flooded in and later Lenta sponsored a competition where children were invited to colour a template.

The cost of decorating the building with one of the mural entries within the budget set aside by Lenta was prohibitive.

But Mike Pringle, then working for Forward Swindon, the town centre regeneration arm of Swindon Borough Council, came up with a suggestion of mounting two Minis on the building after BMW agreed to the proposal. This was combined with a simple design of painting a road up the lift shaft of Alexander House and attaching a few roundabouts (for which Swindon is also famous) to create a vertical streetscape.

Building manager Rachel Hampson took the idea to Swindon Council’s planning committee which, after some huffing and puffing, agreed to a three year installation.

Kimberley Ragousis, communications manager at Mini Plant Swindon, where Mini body shells are pressed, said there had been agreement at every level of the company in helping out. “Mini is an unconventional brand and we were keen to participate in the quirky, out of the ordinary project. One of the fibreglass models had been attached to the side of the Swindon plant and was in a warehouse. We sent both cars to be used to our Oxford plant where apprentices resprayed them as new.

“The plant in Stratton has been open for 60 years so it’s super to be able to promote the town through this unusual use of our Minis.”

At the unveiling on 31 May the Mayor of Swindon Cllr Mick Bray said it was another first for Swindon. “It’s marvellous to see one of our office buildings highlighted and I am delighted Lenta took it upon themselves to create a point of interest in the town centre. It’s a great advert for Swindon and also products manufactured here.”

Robert Levey, managing director of Lenta, thanked Swindon Link for coming up with the idea in the first place. “The Link magazine called Alexander House an ugly building but we thought their suggestion gave us a chance to create a landmark.

“We wouldn’t have got this far without the determined persistance of Rachel Hampson and Mike Pringle, with help from BMW. It’s taken a lot of hard work convincing the planners this would be a positive opportunity for Swindon.”

Rachel said she was delighted to see the Minis mounted on Alexander House. “It’s fantastic to see them up there. Whatever your point of view of our building, we’ve created a landmark and a talking point for the people of Swindon and visitors to the town.”

Swindon urban art installationMike Pringle, now a freelance urban design consultant, added: “It’s been two years hard work in getting the project unveiled for all to see; it’s really exciting to see the Minis up there with the roundabouts and zebra crossing. The whole ensemble is a striking example of how the private sector can enhance the built environment. It continues the proud tradition of murals and public art in the town. And it continues a Swindon tradition of daring to be different.”

Swindon Link publisher Roger Ogle said he hadn’t thought anything would come of his original idea. “Alexander House as an art canvas came to me in a flash in the summer of 2009 when the side of the building facing the town centre had been revealed following the demolition of BHS on The Parade. I just put the idea out there and invited suggestions for virtual decoration, never thinking it would get this far.

“I’m glad Lenta weren’t offended and were inspired to do something positive and take the project forward when they ran the schools’ competition, and also continued by gaining planning permission for Mike’s idea.”

• Swindon was world renowned in the 1970s and 80s for its collection of murals on the side of buildings which gradually disappeared for lack of funds to maintain and renew them.