The Broadwater Farm mural stands as a significant contemporary emblem in British social history, adorning the outer surface of a five-story refuse chute on Tangmere House residential block. At risk of being demolished, the mural was Grade II listed by Historic England. Recognising the need for specialised conservation, Haringey Council enlisted the expertise of DBR Conservation.

The mural itself, titled Equality- Harmony, was created in 1986 by artist Gülsün Erbil in collaboration with Broadwater Farm residents and was commissioned in the wake of the Broadwater Farm riot in 1985. Its imagery celebrates the universal values of peace, equality, harmony, and community, linked by a rainbow and a musical stave running the full height of the work. The mosaic mural is 20 metres high and 5 metres wide, comprised of glass and ceramic tesserae, weighing in at an astonishing 30 tonnes. To safeguard the mural during removal, DBR conservators created a systematic blanket system for each section.

 

Inspired by the mosaic protection process commonly used on salvaged Roman mosaics, a three-layered protective blanket was applied for each section. The first layer consists of cotton gauze and natural wheat-starch paste. This was followed by a layer of liquid rubber and finally a layer of plaster. These three layers act to absorb any vibration or shock to the mosaic during the cutting and lifting process. This defence blanket also serves to hold any mosaic pieces in place in case they shift during the process. The blanket left one strip of mosaic exposed – acting as a precise guide for the cutting blade.

The cutting process for the 19 mosaic sections was a triumph of collaboration between DBR and Hughes and Salvidge. Large diamond cutting wheels were used to carefully wet cut each section, starting with a smaller blade for pilot cuts at each corner, then a larger blade was used to cut through the mass of concrete. Before final cuts were made, the concrete sections were attached to a crane, which provided the necessary tension to ensure no wayward movement during cutting. Once all lines were cleanly cut, the crane lifted the 2.5-tonne mosaic sections to ground level, where DBR’s team of conservators and a forklift greeted and guided the mosaic section to an on-site purpose-built workshop. DBR’s conservation team now diligently documents, cleans, and repairs each section, using deionised water and conservation-grade detergents. Matching original colours, they source new tesserae for any damaged or missing pieces, ensuring continuity with the historic tesserae. Social value is at the forefront of this project. The brilliance of conserving modern history is the availability for community engagement. This allows for community members who share this history to have a hand in memorialising their history.

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