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Great big softies: meet the woman who makes London’s landmarks out of felt

Posted at 1:30 pm, April 14, 2014 in Arts & Entertainment

Lucy Sparrow © Rob Greig   

Crafty London artist Lucy Sparrow has made felt versions of the city’s most iconic buildings. Here, she explains why we should all snuggle up to a skyscraper.

My name’s Lucy, and you probably think I’m crazy. Sometimes I do too, to be fair. I make things out of felt: often everyday objects like tin cans, Oyster cards and chocolate bars. Sometimes things that are more adventurous, like an AK-47 assault rifle. I like allowing people to get close to imposing or dangerous things, removing their sharp edges so they’re soft and cuddly. 

Lucy Sparrow © Rob Greig

I started making models of London buildings ten months ago. I wasn’t living in London at the time, but I was about to move to the city, and I felt like I needed to get to know the place intimately. I’ve made 15 buildings in total, from Battersea Power Station to Nelson’s Column to the London Eye (I call my version the ‘Eyelet’). As a Londoner, you often take for granted the buildings that make the place so wonderful. Places like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral – they’re thought of as being for tourists, but they should matter to everyone. I wanted to make London seem more approachable. Not just to bring tourist attractions to people’s attention but to help people connect with the buildings around them. All these landmark constructions are going up, but the people who live nearby often have no say in how they turn out. The Shard, for example, is the tallest building in Europe and the biggest landmark in London. But it costs £30 to go up it! How many people who live in Southwark can afford that?

Lucy Sparrow © Rob Greig

My Shard is snuggly. A little afraid even. I gave him a face with a surprised expression. Perhaps because he’s scared of heights? Or perhaps it’s because of all the planes flying around his head? All my buildings are boys. I feel like Mother London sometimes: the felt structures are my children, and I’m proudly putting them out into the world. When I sell them I hope they go to loving homes, because all buildings deserve to be understood, even the ugly ones. Trellick Tower is a good example. It’s a brutalist monster – a brown concrete block of flats looming over west London. The architect, Ernő Goldfinger, was the inspiration for one of Ian Fleming’s Bond baddies. Goldfinger got some kind of revenge with the Trellick, which overshadowed Fleming’s garden. Many residents (including Fleming) hated it when it was completed in 1972. It took decades for it to become loved, but people have fought to stop it being torn down. I have the felt version of the tower on my sofa at home.

Lucy Sparrow © Rob Greig

My relationship with these buildings has become strangely personal. I can’t look at the originals without seeing felt and fabric. But then, lots of people develop a fondness for buildings. We love giving them nicknames: the Cheese Grater; the Gherkin; the Walkie Talkie. My next project is an entire cornershop stocked with felt products, which is due to open in Bethnal Green in August. I feel that if the normal world gets you down, there’s no other alternative than to make your own – a place you can retreat into when you need to. When the city feels a bit rubbish, you can say: ‘Thank God there’s a felt alternative!’

Check out Lucy Sparrow’s cuddly landmarks in our Ministructures series

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