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The Barbican joins Future Cities Forum's cultural event at the BFI with Buro Happold

Image above: 'Wrapping' the Barbican, courtesy of Buro Happold

Future Cities Forum is delighted that Shanay Jhaveri, Head of Visual Arts at the Barbican is joining our 'Cultural Cities' discussion event this week.

Shanay was appointed to the Barbican from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where he was Associate Curator of International Art from 2016-2022, after having completed his PhD at the Royal College of Art in London. 

Among the many exhibitions Shanay has curated are the ground-breaking retrospective Phenomenal Nature: Mrinalini Mukherjee at the Met Breuer in 2019, and Huma Bhabha’s Met Roof Commission We Come in Peace in 2018. He has published widely in various art journals, and has written books including Western Artists and India: Creative Inspirations in Art and DesignOutsider Films on India: 1950–1990, and America: Films from Elsewhere.

In his role as Head of Visual Arts at the Barbican, he oversees the Centre’s programme of ground-breaking exhibitions, solo artist commissions and public events encompassing contemporary and modern art, design, architecture, performance, film and photography.

He will be joined at Future Cities Forum's roundtable by Buro Happold, Partner, Andrew Wylie, who will be talking about the recent project to 'wrap' the Barbican. Purple Hibiscus, an installation created by artist Ibrahim Mahama, has been unveiled at the Barbican as part of a new exhibition – Unravel: The Power & Politics of Textiles in Art. Buro Happold provided engineering services across the project, which entailed wrapping the Barbican in 2,300 sq. m of fabric.  

Andrew Wylie is a Partner at Buro Happold with responsibility for leading the portfolio of the UK Culture Sector projects.  His specialism is in structural engineering, and he has experience of multi-disciplinary design on a range of complex new build and refurbishment projects with particular experience in museums and performance venues.  He has worked on a number of high-profile projects including The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, The Factory (Manchester), The Centre for Music (London), The National History Museum (London), Bristol Aero Collection and Heritage Houses in Qatar.


Andrew has completed a Master’s degree in Inter-Disciplinary Design for the Built Environment at the University of Cambridge and is a Chartered Engineer, he is also a member of the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).  Andrew is active in supporting the Cultural Sector in its response to the Climate and Biodiversity Crisis, he led the technical team authoring the Theatre Green Book and Arts Green Book and is a member of the steering committee for both publications.   Andrew is a Trustee of The Lowry (Salford).


The re-use of materials is a key topic of conversation across all industries, including both art and engineering, as the UK moves towards meeting its net zero targets. For Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama, the re-use of materials and his deep interest in the life cycles of textiles demonstrates, ‘what can be learnt from the historical memories embedded within them.’  

The 2,300 sq. m of cloth, which has engulfed the Barbican in a vibrant purple colour, is embroidered with ‘batakaris’—a traditional Ghanian men’s garment originating in the north of the country. The fabric has been hand-woven together in a collective effort with hundreds of craftspeople from Tamale, northern Ghana.  

The work also references the 2003 novel, ‘Purple Hibiscus’, by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In the book, the purple hibiscus symbolises freedom and hope for oppressed people.  

The Barbican building itself is a listed building and therefore no physical connections to the building were permitted, which was the main challenge on this project, as the team had to consider how to use the mass of the building to restrain the 2300 sq. m of fabric.  

Buro Happold supplied structural engineering services and devised a solution adopting tension lines which ‘hugged’ the building, enabling the team to mobilise the building mass to restrain the fabric. 

The team also looked to securely fasten the fabric to the tension lines by introducing a fabric paneling model, a textile designers’ approach’ with a mesh backing to re-enforce it. The fabric was then stitched into position using the tension lines and additional straps around the existing building, with the ends secured at Lakeside level with kentledge (large concrete weights), to ensure the fabric was safe to the agreed design wind speeds. 

One of the other challenges was how the fabric would withstand wind force. The team provided a wind management strategy, researching and testing reinforcements against the calculated wind speed of 19 m/s. This strategy was to minimise the impact of the wind on the fabric panels to reduce the forces on the supporting structure. On this specific part of the work, Buro Happold collaborated closely with Millemetre – specialist contractors who are experts in these types of art installation.

Buro Happold also issued the cutting patterns, which were then sent to Ghana, and in tandem, were stitched together by the craftspeople there. Once the exhibition completes, all the fabric will be sent back to Ghana to be used within the community and for other installations. 


Shanay Jhaveri, Head of Visual Arts at the Barbican, said: “Following Ranjani Shettar’s exquisite commission for the Barbican Conservatory, we are thrilled to be presenting Purple Hibiscus by Ibrahim Mahama.  

“At a time of increasing fracture and disharmony, Mahama, with this monumental site-specific artwork – the second in our newly launched commission series – will transform the Barbican’s iconic Lakeside into a site and space for the commemoration of community, intergenerational memory and solidarity, all achieved by the incredible capabilities and capacity of the human hand.” 

Purple Hibiscus will be on show until the 18th August 2024. 

Below: Andrew Wylie (courtesy Buro Happold)


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