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Landscape
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The Water Gardens

The Water Gardens is a 5000sqm suspended 1960s iconic Brutalist landscape garden on a podium deck, two thirds covered by water, which had started leaking into the under-croft car park and was in urgent need of repairs. The challenge from the design brief was not to restore the past like-for-like but to bring the garden up to date in a style that respected its Brutalist heritage whilst incorporating new principles of design technology and sustainability in a spirit of innovation and forward thinking that is relevant in today’s society.

R-LA’s solution was to restore the original Brutalist layout of the garden whilst providing innovation. Measures include a dynamic new paving design; a contemporary water feature that captures the regular linear rhythm of the garden whilst oxygenating the water; wild planting juxtaposed with more manicured areas that reconnect people to nature; terrestrial and aquatic diverse planting providing interest, biodiversity, habitat and food all year round; an aquatic habitat with shallow shelves for access and breeding; reintroduction of 400 goldfish and carp; a new SuDS rain harvesting system beneath the deck paving.

The feasibility design involved a public consultation with all stakeholders and residents of the surrounding apartment blocks. This enabled the delivery of a more rounded design with inclusive access for the enjoyment of the garden for people of all ages. The residents were very keen to see the mature trees reinstated in the garden. With planter walls up to 1.7m above slab level on a suspended deck, this challenging and complex task was overcome with great dexterity by the contractors. In order to ensure a suitable and durable waterproofing the whole garden had to be stripped of vegetation, soil, water and paving right down to slab level.

R-LA led the landscape design from the first feasibility studies through to the final construction design and then maintenance monitoring of the garden, via a traditional procurement contract.

The garden is a semi-private communal garden with a vehicular road passing through it. Before restoration this road confined pedestrians to a half metre side area with bollards. The new design ensured the road became a pedestrian priority shared space with patterns to slow traffic. The raised garden has been made further accessible by the introduction of two new ramps which seamlessly blend into the old layout. Refolo introduced new seating areas with a bespoke bench design incorporating bare concrete featuring timber formwork imprints blending in perfectly with the existing Brutalist architecture.

A new lighting design provided a new dimension to a garden which was in complete darkness for 50 years. This design by R-LA echoed the rhythmic pattern of the garden and highlighted the beauty of the textured brutalist features. It also provides a necessary increased level of security making the garden accessible and safe at night.

The large difference between the paving level and the slab level was revealed when the garden was stripped bare. This led to the idea of introducing a sustainable rainwater harvesting system in this space to be used for irrigation. In addition to this, during the restoration works R-LA uncovered the original long-forgotten urban irrigation system of planters directly connected to the ponds, which was blocked after being buried in mud for 50 years. Reinstating this system allowed for the deep and large planters to have a constant water table giving all-weather irrigation for the tree roots. To enable this mechanism to work properly, a bespoke layered free-draining soil was specified.
The completely new planting design reinforced the transition from chaos to order, with the waves of the paving patterns flowing through the planting layout in the planters, forming a connection between nature and concrete. An additional 200 sqm of semi-intensive green roofs covered the old car park ventilation gaps. The original 1960s terrestrial planters benefitted from a plethora of shrubs, perennials, grasses and bulbs in addition to the semi-mature trees.

The new paving pattern was designed to enhance the beauty of the existing gardens as well as express a wave dynamic sweeping across the space transitioning from chaos to order. This pattern subtly leads the visitor from one geometric planter to the next connecting the garden across the space. The bright paving contrasts with the darker polished banding echoing the reflective surface of the ponds giving the impression of water infiltrating the pavement, which is especially effective at night. The design tension is created by the counterintuitive ideas of the fluidity of poured concrete and the solidity of water at impact. The Water Gardens design is a constant dialogue between water and concrete – a rhythm connecting nature and architecture.
It was seen as essential that the restoration of the garden in the 21st Century respected the genus Loci and Brutalist essence whilst projecting a new abstraction rooted in sustainability and biodiversity, the new focus of contemporary urban design.

Client: The Church Commissioners for England
Project manager: Colliers International
Main contractor: Makers Construction Ltd
Landscape contractor: Bartholomew Landscaping
Aquatic planting contractor: Aquajoy
Soil Specialist: Tim O’Hare Associates
Drainage Engineers: Cundall
Structural Engineers: Fothergill & Company Ltd
Project location (Connaught Village, London, W2 2DA):
Design year: 2016-17 (Scheme restoration)
Year Built: First implemented 1966. Scheme restoration: 2018-2019

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