Transforming Spaces: The Power of Installations to Enliven and Engage

I am a strong believer that first impressions count and that is not just referring to people.   When we encounter a new location, the impression it leaves on us tends to linger. That first impression shapes our perception of the destination and determines whether we want to return and how long we want to stay. It is therefore imperative to ensure that our destinations are consistently presented at their finest. 

This has become even more important over the last few years as people are increasingly seeking experiences rather than just products or services, they don’t just visit a shopping centre to shop anymore, which means the role of placemaking is even more crucial than ever.   

Installations are a compelling method of transforming a space into an enticing place where people are drawn to and want to spend time.  By installing a focal point that revitalises the area and creates an Instagrammable spot which encourages visitors to engage with you automatically makes the destination more attractive. 

Culver Square shopping centre in Colchester, Essex is one of my favourite examples of a shopping centre where an array of installations have been used over the years to successfully drive footfall, increase dwell time, show support to the community and raise awareness of key messages.  

The installations in Culver Square have captured attention since 2019 when they filled the sky with colourful umbrellas to enliven the open-air scheme, since then every year the shopping centre has included at least one installation in their marketing calendar to create emotional connections with the community on many levels.


Due to the pandemic, the local theatre was temporarily closed and the staff there were facing an uncertain winter following the announcement that the annual pantomime wouldn’t be able to go ahead.  However, the Christmas Castle project kept the team of freelance set designers very busy! 

The beautiful 6m high pink castle transformed an ordinary seating area into an extraordinary Christmas display.  It featured Colchester themed stained glass windows and 500 lights. It was constructed using CNC precision technology, hand-craftsmanship and intricately painted by four members of the Mercury’s freelance workforce.

The top of the castle featured Father Christmas and his reindeer.  The detail that went into the castle was amazing and guaranteed a glittering welcome for visitors to the centre.


This installation had two meanings, the first is as a way of saying thank you to the wonderful NHS staff and key workers in Colchester, who continued to work throughout the coronavirus pandemic so that the community could stay safe at home.  

The second reason for the colourful display was as a symbol of hope for the brighter future ahead.  During lockdown, the rainbow became a symbol of gratitude for the NHS.  The colourful show of appreciation provided a way of uniting the community as they battled through the unknown territory that came with COVID-19 resonating with the community on a deeper level.


The intriguing design of the willow sculpture that was installed as part of the centre’s ‘Wild at Art’ initiative drew attention to the campaign that had an important story to tell.   

The installation was part of a wider Mental Health Awareness Week project that saw an empty unit repurposed as a pop-up gallery showcasing art created by the Colchester community.  

The eye-catching willow sculpture was specifically designed with nature in mind and took the shape of two trees filled with beautiful butterflies, birds and insects.  The intertwining branches enveloped and cradled the tiny creatures reminding us how important mother nature has been to our own wellbeing.  The installation provided a beautiful, tranquil place for visitors to sit, unwind and reconnect with nature. 


This initiative is a shining example of how installations can serve as powerful tools for expressing brand identity.  By aligning with the centre’s brand values and passionate sustainability ethos, combined with the centre team’s love of wildlife this installation really left a lasting impression on visitors.  

Utilising old car tyres, the team ingeniously transformed them into vibrant plant pots, adorning the centre with a colourful display. Additionally, they fashioned a rockery garden at the heart of the space. These installations not only beautified the area but also served as educational hubs, featuring informative content about solitary bees and their ecological significance.  Among the highlights were the whimsical minion planters, which sparked considerable attention and lively engagement on social media platforms.

Furthermore, by repurposing old pallets from deliveries, the team crafted additional planters filled with blossoms. These planters cleverly incorporated QR codes, providing access to the “We Love Wildlife” webpage where visitors could enjoy wildlife facts, colouring sheets and how-to guides to entertain and educate younger shoppers throughout the school holidays. 

To complete the campaign an empty unit was transformed into a sunflower garden, offering shoppers a serene space to appreciate and enjoy.


To commemorate His Majesty The King’s Coronation Culver Square collaborated with local artists to create a unique and breathtaking natural sculpture.  The Willow Crown was a remarkable installation that used sustainably sourced British willow, with branches intertwining to form a stunning focal point inspired by the iconic St Edward’s Crown.

Its presence added an air of elegance and significance to the centre, reminding the community of the historical grandeur surrounding the Coronation and providing a photogenic reason to visit.  

The crown was a fantastic footfall driver attracting visitors from afar to come and see the patriotic installation. 

In essence, through strategic placemaking and captivating installations like those showcased in Culver Square, destinations can not only attract visitors but also forge lasting connections with their communities, underscoring the enduring significance of first impressions in shaping our experiences and perceptions.

It is an exciting challenge to be presented with a space that needs to be brought to life, transforming it into an inviting and welcoming place through the power of installations.   If you have a space that needs activating then get in touch

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