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Rachel Whiteread designs Whitechapel Gallery frieze

In her first permanent public commission, 1993 Turner prize winner to create huge frieze above gallery doors

Inspired by the Secession building in Vienna, and the ubiquity of a certain type of rapacious weed in Hackney, the artist Rachel Whiteread has designed a golden frieze that will finally solve a 111-year-old problem.

The Whitechapel Gallery in east London announced on Thursday what its director, Iwona Blazwick, called "the realisation of a dream" - a plan for a large and empty space on the front of its building to be filled by a permanent work of art.

In what is her first ever permanent public commission in the UK, Whiteread has been asked to fill the 8m by 15m space above the gallery doors on Whitechapel High Street, after the failure of the first attempt in 1901 when a planned mosaic by Walter Crane was judged too big and too expensive. Since then the problem has been kept "out of sight and out of mind", admitted Blazwick.

Whiteread said it had been a daunting task and one she had realised by installing a 1:1 model of the Whitechapel facade in her studio and working in wax to create a work of clusters of gilded leaves and branches.

"I find it quite difficult to work with computer generated images," she admitted. "I'm a sculptor, I like to work in three dimensions and not two dimensions."

Her influences for the frieze include the "tree of life" motif that is already part of the building as well as "the Hackney weed" she sees most days - Buddleia - which can be seen growing out of buildings or by the canal; the Secession building in Vienna with its "golden cabbage" roof and "then I went to the top of St Paul's and looked around and thought what is it that makes areas of London or just parts of buildings stand out?"

One answer was the use of gold. There will also be a more recognisable Whiteread touch to the work in that she's casting four terracotta reliefs of existing gallery windows as a counterpoint to the gilded leaves.

The work will be unveiled in June and forms part of the London 2012 festival running this summer as the culmination of the cultural olympiad.

The Art Fund is donating £200,000 to the project but Blazwick said it was too early to give further costing and funding figures as it was still "a work in progress".

The commission will fill a space that many did not even know was there to be filled; "it's part of invisible London," said Whiteread, who lives and works about five minutes' walk away from the gallery.

Her solution for the empty rectangle is quite a subtle work, although Whiteread said: "It's pretty ostentatious, there's gold leaf on it - it's the most ostentatious I've ever been."

Blazwick believes it will turn heads: "I think it will be a way of making people look up. Usually we're all busy, heads down running for the bus and the tube; this will be a way of celebrating the architecture in this part of town." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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