The City of London has long-held connotations of a purely corporate environment, and this has trickled into perceptions of the area’s public spaces. DSDHA’s proposition disrupts these presets through an interjection of a new type of corporate campus which looks to holistic, considered and planet-centric strategies. What stands now is a reformed rejuvenated identity for Exchange Square; a publicly accessible corporate campus, which allows for all to come together.

The site prior to our intervention was developed in 1990s and comprised a central lawn area that was popular with people who used the space but the large, curved feature wall on the western boundary to the lawn created a significant barrier within the square and restricted visual permeability. On the northern edge, steps led up to Exchange House and provided generous seating, but the extensive use of pink granite appeared monotonous. Alongside these material challenges, level changes across the square were addressed through various ramps and other stairs, creating barriers to access. Signage was poor throughout the space and entrances to the square lacked legibility.

Exchange Square now stands as a major new corporate public park for British Land in the heart of the City of London. Suspended above the tracks of a busy transport hub of Liverpool Street Station, it sits within Broadgate’s entirely pedestrianised public realm, the largest in Central London.

We worked closely with the client, which led to an ambitious holistic brief, centring on:

– Inclusivity and diversity: creating a space that is fully accessible and an exemplar of inclusive design, including breaking down barriers (both physical and perceived)
– Ecology and Sustainability: Significantly enhancing biodiversity, keeping in mind the experiences of different seasons, species and being sustainable in methodology
– A place Respite: Creating pockets of nurture, respite, and relaxation in the heart of the City.

Reimagined as a bucolic landscape and generously planted green space, Exchange Square is a new corporate mixed-use space in the City. Blending recreational spaces with informal, open-air working facilities and retail units, the square encourages a variety of potential uses and activity at different times of day, extending the dwelling time beyond working hours and helping Broadgate become more receptive to the needs of a wider variety of people, from its local offices and shop workers, to residents of neighbouring parts of the city.

Our intention was to slow the pace of this intensely corporate kinetic space, offering respite from the onslaught of commuters at the train station and the noise of the area, allowing for leisure, relaxation and interaction surrounded by nature. Inspired by the East Anglian estuarine landscapes to which the trains from Liverpool Street depart, the park’s pathways offer direct and winding routes past lawns and densely planted areas that bring greater biodiversity and year-round green space connectivity to the site.

Exchange Square was created upon a holistic approach. From creating inclusivity through addressing permeability for the users, to the ecology it preserves and helps flourish. A comprehensive analysis of pedestrian movement helped to identify barriers to access – steps, changes in level, lack of visual contrast and changes in tactility, and poor signage – informing our response of unfolding the space across several levels to create a more naturalistic permeable topography, with gently sloping routes that allow wheelchair and pushchair access across and through the whole site.

Our campus keeps longevity in mind, from an onsite gardener who encourages continual learning – offering opportunities for involvement from the wider public, whilst maintaining the square and providing plant cuttings to its adjacent buildings, to the many seasons which occurs and how the space can be a facilitator which acknowledges change. The 1.5-acre park provides a four-fold increase in planting from its previous state – 14,000 plants and over 140 different species – a 600% increase in biodiversity, and 25% of the area features accessible green space – a 300% increase

Reuse and recycling of materials were emphasised; the scheme reimagines the existing structure to support the public space over the tracks. The existing concrete slab is retained without modification and loadbearing capacity analysis was undertaken to identify areas that could support tree planting and increased soil build-ups, eliminating the need for any strengthening of the structure.

We endeavoured to evaluate and continually reduce embodied carbon throughout the construction process, resulting in a 61% reduction in embodied carbon and circular economy initiatives, including our reuse of materials on site, were equivalent to a 220tCO2e saving.

The previous campus featured a substantial water feature that pumped gallons of water around a closed system, it used ample energy and limited accessibility of a large part of the site. Our design removed this feature and provided an alternative stream of water in the centre of the space, where water gently cascades down a series of shallow pools, using a fraction of the volume of water (and one-tenth of the energy of the previous square) and making the water a play feature. The location of the existing water tank also required significant loading capacity, which we repurposed for the provision of a new café with an accessible roof.

In providing a more attractive, less corporate environment for Broadgate, we have created a campus in which people wish to dwell, not just pass through. Through new planting, seating, lighting, high-quality materials, and more opportunities for temporary uses and events, a more diverse group of people have been encouraged to use the space, breaking down perceived barriers to surrounding areas of the City.

Architecture offices involved in the design: 
Horticulture and Soft Landscape: FFLO
Location: Exchange Square, Sun St Passage, London EC2A 2EH

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