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Building Wraps

Originally born to make building sites look presentable under construction, building wraps create high impact advertisements. Summer Brooks delves into the world of building cover-ups

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Lavastar was tasked with disguising portacabins under this façade at Wembley Park

Keeping up appearances

In high footfall cities such as London, which are constantly undergoing renovation and development, construction sites are around every corner – and they’re unsightly. Developers are seeking out ways to maximise the impact of their new properties, whilst retailers are fighting to keep shoppers on the high street. Building wraps are providing the perfect solution for both.

Headquartered in the heart of the Cotswolds, Embrace Building Wraps has been providing decorative building and scaffold wraps since 2006 and does not see the market slowing down any time soon. Greg Forster, managing director at Embrace Building Wraps, says that whilst the market is tough, the Cheltenham-based firm has seen a significant increase in the last five years from the luxury property market. “It’s challenging times for everyone out there,” he comments. “We are however, in a unique position due to the scale of projects we are known to deliver on, with the experience and skill set in place. This ensures our existing repeat and new clients get the best results from a partner who can offer a complete one stop shop. We ensure we are with them every step of the journey, some of our sales conversions can take up to two years in the planning from initial briefing to project delivery.”

Embrace Building Wraps was tasked with covering up this hotel in Chelsea, London

Seamless delivery

The projects are a huge undertaking, with clients normally looking to ‘cover up’ a significant area of a building with a seamless look. Forster says building wraps are one of the most effective ways of marketing communication. “Building wraps and printed graphics on site hoardings are powerful and effective marketing tools,” he explains. “Great-looking creative designs are well received and create a buzz.

Not only can they advertise the project, they can also conceal and disguise with effective one-to-one trompe l’oeil images to lose the scaffold and site hoardings into the urban landscape for the benefit of the neighbours.”

Embrace worked on creating a five-sided, three-storey solid PVC cabin wrap, made up of one banner that worked seamlessly with ACM panels at Durley House on Sloane Street [pictured] in London, which Forster says was a classic example of the trompe l’oeil effect.

The firm relishes a challenge, and so took on the task of creating and installing a flush-faced wrap across three elevations for John Lewis’ flagship store on Oxford Street whilst the exterior was undergoing external renovations. “The scaffold frame was made available for us to wrap in four separate phased sections, measuring 614m sq, 597.5m sq, 597.5m sq and 684m sq individually,” explains Forster. “This can present a number of operational challenges in ensuring that the four sections align perfectly in six places and that the joins cannot be seen.

A render in disrepair saw Lavastar step in and create a unique building wrap that now works as an effective advertisement for this restaurant

“Usually with this type of large scale project, the fully installed scaffolding is handed over to us at the same time so that the various individual dimensions for each section can be measured exactly. This allows us to manufacture the banner as one item precisely before installing in sections and joining. Uniquely, with this project the scaffolding had to be handed over in phases and we were still able to print the four banners separately and ensure a perfect match and fit.” Embrace delivered a seamless appearance of the completed banner, measuring 2,500m sq overall.

Forster adds: “The end result is nothing short of spectacular and is one of the most striking creative designs we have installed.”

Aura Graphics started off as a sign company in London around 1929 and has since developed to offer a range of branding and image management services, now based out Lowestoft, Suffolk. Lucy Langmead, national account manager at Aura Graphics, says the firm is enjoying a healthy market for wraps, in all forms, thanks to their easily changeable nature. “In light of most companies’ need to refurbish whilst saving money, wrapping buildings with films is a far more cost-effective way to work,” she says. “You can go in and completely redesign a building quickly – it’s easy to install; you don’t have to stop workers from being in the building around toxic paints; you can create custom colour matches to match corporate colours; and it works in a very transformative way. For example, you can effectively change the entire external appearance from dull, water-stained, cream cladding to a sleek satin black wrap within days.”

Lavastar came to be after director Ed Kelsing decided to move away from the “lonely” world of graphic design and online marketing, and into the world of signage. He started Lavastar in 2015 and the firm built up a reputation for offering high quality hoardings. Kelsing comments: “We geared ourselves up towards that market because we enjoyed it, instead of something like vehicle graphics which is oversaturated. When people wanted hoardings, they would ask if we could do building wraps, so we started saying yes.”

This wrap by Lavastar was created to improve the presentation of a hidden mews development on a busy London street

The best of the best

The firm outsources structural engineers, printers and abseilers to install building wraps, as Kelsing explains: “There isn’t anyone in the UK that does a building wrap completely in-house. Because jobs are £50,000 upwards a lot of the time, you want to make sure you’ve got the best people for each element. Otherwise, if it goes wrong, it’s an expensive mistake.”

Because jobs are £50,000 upwards a lot of the time, you want to make sure you’ve got the best people for each element. Otherwise, if it goes wrong, it’s an expensive mistake

He says the building wraps market in London in particular is growing: “From a site perspective, you see these considerate construction schemes now, which basically outline what construction companies need to follow to keep residents happy. To win more points doing that, you’ve got to dress with hoardings; you’ve got to put plants up; you’ve got to screen off a scaffolding with a one-to-one montage of what the façade looks like, so that you almost don’t even know it’s a building site. It keeps the noise down, it keeps residents happy, it keeps dust from leaving the site – it’s not just about branding.”

Kelsing says that concerns over fire ratings have risen since the Grenfell Tower incident in Kensington in 2017, with more insurance companies now seeking LPS 1215 compliant materials. Despite Lavastar’s banners being B1 fire rated, more are insisting on LPS 1215. “A lot of the print houses are now putting products in testing to be able to comply with that,” Kelsing adds. “It’s just a development, I guess. Building wraps will still always be around, but we’re having to get up to scratch with the times.

O Factoid: Trompe l’oeil imagery is often used on a building wrap, meaning ‘deceives the eye’ in French, as the imagery imitates the building’s façade.  O

“When people ask about a building wrap, their concerns are [around] safety. That’s why we say we’ll put together all the structural calculations so they know what’s going up is fit for purpose and they can sleep at night. Whereas before, I think a lot of people would think that because the scaffolding is held up it can take a little banner, and that’s not always the case.”

One of Lavastar’s most interesting projects saw the firm effectively replace the decaying render of a building in Tenerife with a tension banner system. “They spent less money on that than they would have done repairing the render and now they’ve got this fantastic advertisement which they can change,” explains Kelsing. “There’s not loads of people who push boundaries and say they’re going to do it a bit differently. That’s what we liked about this project in Tenerife – they don’t do this in Spain. We had people stopping us asking us how we did it.”

Tools for the job

Embrace prints onto solid and mesh PVC for building and scaffold wraps. Forster comments: “We rely on the highly versatile EFI VUTEk GS5000r five-metre roll-to-roll UV printers. Due to the size and longevity of our clients displays we go full belt and braces to ensure the print quality remains colourfast for years with banner manufacture techniques taken from the sailing industry. We ensure our banner and wrap installs are secure and remain drum tight.” For ACM panels, the firm uses a HP Latex machine to print the design.

Aura Graphics’ main machine is the EFI VUTEk GS3250LX Pro which uses ‘cool cure’ LED technology allowing for printing on a greater range of substrates, at little cost to the environment. The firm uses architectural grade films designed to refurbish external metal cladding. Langmead adds: “This has major benefits in terms of not having to section off or close down parts of the buildings or respray areas, as there are no toxic fumes coming off paint. And it means you don’t have to entirely replace any building parts as it can just be wrapped over.”

John Lewis sought a high impact wrap for its flagship Oxford Street store to ensure passers-by were aware that the store was still open

Lavastar takes a different approach when it comes to investing in kit. Kelsing explains: “I see a lot of companies boasting about new machines, which they probably get in to show they’re ticking boxes – but they’re all on finance. They are then doing jobs for next-to-nothing because they’ve got to keep them running. We’re not like that – we run a very tight ship and if anything, we invest in our staff because that’s what our clients are going to buy into.”

The firm uses roll-to-roll Mimaki printers, allowing for 24 hour usage without the need for human supervision. Kelsing adds that these machines take up a fifth of space compared to a flatbed, making them a cost effective solution. “Machine-wise, how we normally run as a business is, we’ll outsource things, and then when it gets to the end of the [financial] year I’ll look at where our costs have gone,” he adds. “So, if we’re spending a significant amount on outsourcing one thing, we’ll look to bring it in-house.”

Forster concludes: “More clients see the benefit of making use of what is an operational on-site necessity to protect passers-by from noise and mess, but also secure the location. In most cases, these structures are unsightly due to the very functional nature but make effective use for on-site brand and sales messages [whilst] keeping the local area looking bright and vibrant. Passing traffic on foot or by car – 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – are potential sales opportunities. Let’s be fair – big brands buy outdoor media billboards as media opportunities, so why not use your own development to raise awareness?”

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