Alfred Place was a heavily parked back street in London’s West End, situated alongside Tottenham Court Road in an area between the Euston Road and Oxford Street. With nowhere to sit, it was a place to hurry through. The street is lined with offices and the back entrances of large stores on Tottenham Court Road. There is little access to nature in the area and it is woefully short of outdoor places to relax. There are next to no play spaces.
The brief was to reclaim and reimagine Alfred Place to support the community and businesses; to encourage active travel and improve air quality; to create a more climate resilient environment, reducing flood risk; and to provide a richer visitor experience.
Alfred Place Gardens has been transformed into a tranquil, richly planted, and welcoming park, with generous seating, biodiverse planting and shade-giving mature trees. It is the first new park in the area for 25 years.
Renamed Alfred Place Gardens, the street now prioritises pedestrians and cyclists, whilst access for essential services and emergency vehicles are maintained. Now child-friendly, the linear space features attractive, climate-resilient planting providing year-round interest and new habitats; with lounging lawns framed by gentle slopes and grasses. A meandering path provides a new spine and elegant, curved timber seating is designed to make socialising easy. Playful elements encourage families to spend time.
The Gardens offer a variety of experiences, including a woodland walk under a mature tree canopy with forest-floor planting of wild garlic, snowdrops, and ferns. This flows into a sequence of play spaces which make the most of openings in the tree cover. Plants with sizeable seed heads were chosen for their playfulness. Then, there are lounging lawns and an events space with pop-up power and edged with grasses and colourful herbaceous perennials. Sculptural walls and climbing features add interest.
Engagement with the community and interest groups has shaped the design. There were three pop-up events in the space to connect with potential users, with comments collated from 350+ conversations. Two evening talks helped reach those not available during the day, plus online questionnaires, webpage and QR code. Camden appointed a designated community engagement liaison officer to ensure local people felt invested in the project’s success.
The project team set the highest design benchmark to transform a two-way trafficked street into an inclusive park for various levels of neurodiversity and physical ability. For instance, the design encourages people to interact with sensory planting via steppingstones.
The Gardens, with its comfortable seating, immediately attracted a diverse community of students, shoppers, workers and residents. The Park has become a focal point in the area, last year hosting the launch of the Bloomsbury Festival.
Alfred Place Gardens provides significant biodiversity net gain with more than 2,000 new plants and 5,000 bulbs. Retained London Plane trees are joined by multi-stem Amelanchier and Birch. Planting is selected to withstand hot, dry summers. Biodegradable moisture retention gels in the soil act as miniature reservoirs to provide back up.
The park is also designed to tolerate sudden deluges. Permeable resin paths include 30% recycled content, with absorbed rainwater quenching the borders. Combined with significant areas of new planting, this creates a substantial water catchment area. A safe cycle and pedestrian connection and new bike stands support active travel.
The project demonstrates that city centre road to park conversions make perfect sense, posing a visceral challenge to society’s blithe acceptance of vehicle domination. Alfred Place Gardens immediately put in display all the benefits of a softer, slower, greener, quieter, healthier urban landscape.
The scale of Alfred Place Gardens is significant. As an everyday street common to most city neighbourhoods, Alfred Place Gardens makes it easy for people to see how their area could be similarly improved. It represents a radical shift in what people can expect from city streets with landscapes that feel rewarding.
Alfred Place Gardens is part of Camden’s award-winning West End Project with LDA Design, the borough’s largest council-led public realm and transport scheme. As well as Alfred Place Gardens, the programme includes restoration of Whitfield Gardens and the reclaiming of road space to create a jewel of a new civic space at Princes Circus, plus four new pocket parks. Congestion on the two main roads in the area has reduced significantly, by as much as 70% on Tottenham Court Road during restricted hours. The West End Project has also successfully attracted more people to the area, hitting one million visitors in a week. Local heritage is restored and cared for, there are around 2.6km of new cycle lanes and air quality has improved, with NO2 better than 2018 levels.
LDA Design – Landscape Architect, Lead Designer
Camden Council – Client
Arcadis – Civil, M&E and Structural Engineers
Norman Rourke Pryme – Construction Project Management and Cost Consultancy
Michael Grubb Studio – Lighting Design
ID Verde – Contractor
DSDHA – Overarching West End Project Strategy
Location: London WC1E 7EB
Design year: 2020-2021
Year completed: March 2022