If you walk along the Grand Union Canal near Paddington Station, you might stumble upon a giant bath plug in the ground. Is it there to stop the water draining out? No, it’s art, but with a hidden purpose.
The artwork sits outside the recently completed Brunel Building, and as a condition of the planning consent, new buildings are usually required to commission something arty for the public.
Derwent London commissioned the artist, Gavin Turk to come up with something for this location on the canal path. The location isn’t random though, as it conceals a 180-metres deep borehole drilled deep into the ground. Depending on the season, it can be used to transfer heat or coolth energy to the aquifer by circulating the groundwater. This stored energy can then be used as the seasons change, for heating or cooling the building.
There are in fact two boreholes, but those boreholes are more interesting than it seems — yes really.
The other borehole is a couple of streets to the east, and it will pump heat into the ground on hot days, but the borehole next to the canal will suck heat out of the ground during cold days. If you’re using ground heat to warm an office building in the winter months, the more heat there is in the ground to use the better for the office. And what happens to run just a few metres from the borehole? The Bakerloo line. So although the borehole reaches down deeper than the tube tunnels, it will not just remove heat from the ground in the winter, it may, possibly, start to have an effect on removing heat from the tube tunnels. If there’s an effect, it’s likely to be modest, but it’s a useful bonus.
But back to the art.
Rather than just covering up this borehole with a manhole cover, they wanted an arty manhole cover. Gavin Turk was chosen as he has a keen interest in trompe-l’oeil and the illusionary element of art, and a plug for a plughole seems quite a fun idea.
So what we have is basically, a very large bath plug in the pavement. Made of metal instead of rubber (yes, I tapped it to check), with a bit of plug chain off to one side. Gavin Turk’s name in the casting, but otherwise it’s unadorned – it is simply what it looks like. What would be nice though is a small explanatory plaque near the art to explain why it’s here, and the borehole it conceals.