Paradise Street Public Art Project

 Paradise Street Public Art Project

Oxford, 2022-23

For A2Dominion

A2Dominion are a residential property group operating across London and Southern England providing a range of homes and services for customers including, Social and Affordable rented homes, homes for sale, Supported Housing, Student Accommodation and Key Worker accommodation. 


I was approached by the A2 Dominion in 2020 to consider this public art project on Paradise Street. Through my research of this prime location in Oxford, I explored the historical use of the castle; its medieval links through to its use as a prison and including the most recent use of Paradise Street as a location for the homeless shelter Simon House.
The feeling I got for this area, and one I kept returning to during my research, was that of re-generation. The way my brain works leads me on many different routes when researching for a commission and this one followed the following path.

Initial design ideas started at the place you call ‘home’ being where you hang your hat – researching hats and headwear through history and how feathers in hats were symbols of status and wealth.

– Hat feathers led to the birds that they come from.

– Birds and regeneration created a link with the history of Paradise Gardens and how the street got its name.
– Arabia and the Phoenix as a symbol of regeneration and renewal – a recognisable symbol of birth, death, eternity, strength, resurrection.
– The Phoenix lived in Paradise and is a multi-cultural icon of regeneration appealing across generations.
– The myth of the phoenix has relevant historical context with the area including inspiring imagery drawn by Franciscan monks – Greyfriars – in 13th Century.
– The Arabian plants used in the building of the pyre – Myrrh, Frankincense, Cinnamon, Clove.

       Sketch book work

Thinking about the medieval history of the area and how ironwork would have been a precious and valued part of the street landscape I started sketching hanging brackets and signs, looking at the beautiful examples of decorative hanging signs across Europe that still play a significant part in the built environment of villages, towns and cities. Check out my Pinterest board here


I wanted to create decorative ironwork that would be a place-marker, an easily identifiable object for the residents that would occupy the building and the people that pass through the area to physically look up to.  Often public art is on a plinth or in terms of decorative ironwork it is purely functional and at ground level.  We often miss the opportunity to look upwards when walking around towns and cities.  Thinking about triptychs and wanting to tell the story of the regeneration of the Phoenix, I devised three parts to design and make for the project.


Phoenix tail WIP

Forging seed heads

Forging Talons 

My work is based in the traditions of my craft and this project gave me an opportunity to embrace those techniques and work on designs that could flow off the anvil and tell a story – my favourite method of working.

The main hanging bracket and sign are designed around the Phoenix bird on a branch of Myrrh. Drawing on medieval imagery and depictions of the Phoenix and the plants used to build the pyre has resulted in a dynamic and identifiable artwork for the east end of the building. Located elevated on the eastern point of the development it will be seen clearly from Westgate Shopping Centre entrance and pavements and roads converging on the corner of Paradise Street.

The nest built by the Phoenix is depicted as a collection of Arabian plants projecting from the wall to the west end of the building.

The Pyre and Egg Drawing on medieval depictions of a Pyre that resembles a sun/flame motif and the sparks from Apollo’s chariot falling from the sky. The egg of Myrrh tells the story of the re-generation at the centre of the building. The egg will be copper leaf finish.

Cinnamon leaves

The nest – work in progress

Making the egg

This is my take on the Story of the Phoenix; a symbol of regeneration, birth, death and re-birth. Eternity, strength and renewal.


The phoenix lived in Paradise therefore lived a good life.  After one thousand years it was feeling its age and was ready to move on.  

The phoenix left paradise and flew west to go to the mortal world where it could die and be re-born.  Flying west took it to Arabia where it collected fine herbs and spices before continuing to Phoenicia where it built a nest from the collected herbs and spices and waited for the sun to rise.

The next morning, when the sun god Apollo began to drag his chariot across the sky, the phoenix turned east to face him as the sun rose.  

It sang a beautiful song that Apollo stopped to hear.  When the sun god started his chariot again to cross the sky he caused a spark to fall and catch the herbs alight burning the phoenix.  All that was left was a tiny worm. 

After three days a new phoenix would rise from the ashes and begin the next cycle of one thousand years.  It would carry the remaining ashes of its parent in an egg made of myrrh to the great Heliopolis (City of the Sun) and then return to paradise until the cycle came to an end.

Melissa Cole 2023


The traditional hand painted hanging sign is by Mark Amis, a very well respected sign writer and trompe l’oeil painter from  Gloucestershire.

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