The Museum in the Park Walled Garden

It is our experience that design is as much about story telling as it is a practical medium of problem solving. The Museum in the Park’s Walled Garden project sought to reclaim a garden which, for fifty years, was allowed to fall derelict. The intention was to create a secret garden, a space in which to further explore the museum artefacts and host workshops and community events; at its centre a pavilion building to accommodate visiting school parties.

The pavilion building had funding in place and the design for a jewel-like structure clad in glowing golden copper, shining like a piece of buried treasure was soon under construction. Challenges have included designing a scheme with no funding at the time and a very high spec brief to match the pavilion; meaning that the financial impact of each design element had to be carefully considered whilst not losing on quality. Our initial role was to devise a ‘marketable’ design to attract funding, whilst considering the museum ‘family’ associated with the site over the years; artists, volunteers, the supporters and the staff themselves as well as visitors of all abilities, each holding a stake in the final outcome.

We started by creating a hand drawn sketch scheme, documenting the way circulation, zoning and levels would work; providing an array of ideas; including the creation of an experience, not just a space; a journey into the garden, where visitors can come close to the different plantings and happen upon installations such as artworks and items from the museum’s collection. The paths, lined with benches also form an amphitheatre space, used as an outdoor learning and entertainment area. This scheme was approved and awarded funding, and the ‘missing link’ to the building was realised. Significantly, we engaged with the volunteer group who worked alongside the contractor to the west of the garden, creating the community space and orchard area from a ‘how-to’ handbook we produced. Throughout the implementation of the project we worked in collaboration with our client team including artist Cleo Mussi, who donated many of the plants from her garden, our consultants and contractor.

Sustainability and robustness have been considered when choosing materials for the scheme and includes; local sweet chestnut for the benches, re-use of the old stone pavers and new limestone sourced from France and copper detailing to match the building is fully recyclable. The fruit trees are heritage varieties and sourced from Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, under-sown with wildflower mix, the majority of herbaceous plants have been donated from the Stroud area. All craftspeople were local to the area. The synergy of architecture and landscape is visceral in this space, the details of the copper, picked out as a trim on the benches and timber detailing tie the design together. Reds in the planting reflect the interior finish, the doors to the building slide right open, blurring the threshold between inside and out.

Despite the garden being used by the public and school groups, the changes in level and the distinct spaces mean that the garden reveals itself as you move through it, and although it is relatively small, there can be found a deep sense of calm and tranquillity. The opportunity to connect so closely to nature, in such a safe and tranquil place allows visitors to recharge both physically and mentally. The Museum now has a living experience for their visitors the garden is contemporary in feel yet domestic in scale, with many attributes of a private garden. It is an unusual public realm scheme as it contains such a vibrant and colourful, complex array of planting, not often afforded to a public realm project; yet achievable here, due to the volunteers’ skill in maintaining it. We are proud of this project for all the reasons described and because visitors to the garden audibly express a sense of awe when entering the space for the first time and tell us how the garden provides a sanctuary and opportunity for reflection in their busy lives. They continue to visit to see the planting evolve through the seasons; taking ideas away to recreate at home. The garden has become a real community asset that will continue to develop for years to come.

Entrant office name: Austin Design Works
Role of the entrant in the project: Rachael Emous-Austin, Landscape Architect CMLI
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: Matthew Austin, Architect
Project location (Street, City, Country): Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud, Gloucestershire, GL5 4AF United Kingdom.
Design year: 2014
Year Built: 2014-2016


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