Hackney Wick – Creativity and Change

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London is a city undergoing constant change, in many cases a push for housing being the catalyst. Certain areas have seen this more markedly than others, one being Hackney Wick, situated on the border of Hackney and Tower Hamlets boroughs. Once known for its petroleum, plastics, dye and confectionary industries during the 19th and early 20th centuries, contemporary Hackney Wick has now become synonymous with creative industries.

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‘Live-work’ spaces have formed the backbone of the creative culture around the area, many of which have sprung up from the repurposing of old factory buildings into habitable living arrangements/studios. This has allowed individuals to be surrounded by like-minded people and in turn create hotspots for particular creative professions.

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However, the area is currently subject to another wave of change, a type of change that is threatening creative industries and independent business’ alike. It comes in the form of property developers who have identified the area of potential. Undeniably, Hackney Wick has become more desirable to live in since the advent of the 2012 Olympics and the expansion of Stratford City/ Westfield shopping centre developments, both located in neighbouring areas. As a result rent prices for live-work spaces and business premises has increased, already driving those out who cannot soak up the cost.

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There is no easy option to alleviate the pressures that Hackney Wick is facing, but rather than try to block change altogether, a sensitive approach should be adopted. This must come in way that puts a focus on the existing uses of the area.

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The Olympic Legacy plan has included Hackney Wick as an identified area, which is active in an appropriate transformation of space and connectivity to the area. Where planning frameworks such as this will be used as umbrella rule, the responsibility also comes down to appointed design consultants to strive to achieve a considered end result in new development.

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Recently Liz Lake Associates has had the opportunity to take these design intentions forward into residential space within Hackney Wick. The project on White Post Lane, with HWO Architects, has looked to retain spaces for existing users of the area. These spaces come in the form of ‘yard’ typologies which are heavily identified within Hackney Wick. Intended as flexible shared space, yards provide adequate room for the activities of creative industries. The narrow and intimate nature of these spaces lend themselves to human scale interaction, rendering them perfect for meetings/exhibitions and collaboration between people using them.

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Tree planting in urban environments – Francesco Ferrini at Barchams

Tree planting is a process that has evolved. It should perhaps be a simple process that involves a small amount of horticultural knowledge and enough strength to dig a moderate size hole. However, what we are seeing is that there are far more constraints that make planting trees in the urban environment a real challenge. If you look at the diagram below, you can see just how little room trees are left with in our urban environments. Because of this, trees planted in these environments are subject to more stress than trees planted in rural locations. A tree in an urban environment can have its roots squashed by cars, leaves covered in pollution, roots covered by hard standing, less available water, heat scorching and being pushed around by passers-by to name a few things. Therefore trees in the urban environment sometimes need a little more help to establish.

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(reference  http://streetmix.net/ , 2017)

Jayne and I attended an event at Barcham’s on the 22nd of February with presentations given by Francesco Ferrini (supported by Alessio Fini), an urban forestry expert. It was a very interesting day that presented a selection of the scientific experiments that Professor Ferrini and his team have conducted in roughly the past 10 years. To set the scene, the majority of experiments have been conducted in Florence, Italy. Many may think that because of this, the results are not applicable to areas of England, however the low rainfall, clay soils with little topsoil, short sharp downpours of rain and long periods of relatively high temperature are comparable to many areas in east Anglia and the south east of England. It must also be remembered that our climate is changing and we need to look at areas of the world that are warmer in order to inform our plant selections for the future.

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(Barchams, http://www.barchampro.co.uk/seminar-research-projects-improve-growth-and-stress-tolerance-nursery-and-after-transplanting-urban, 2017)

In summary, here is a snapshot of some of the things we learned on the day which are the results of Professor Ferrini’s trials. (Please forgive me if I have noted any of the information down incorrectly):

· Root circling – a tree cannot recover from root circling if it develops spiralling roots early on in its life. Nursery stock that develop circling roots will continue to develop spiralling roots even if they are no longer bound i.e. planted in the ground (unless they are root pruned). Therefore it is important that initial nursery establishment of the plant avoids root spiralling of any kind as this will stay with the plant indefinitely (Ferrini, 2017).

· Mycorrhiza – Help to improve access to and storage of nutrients given the correct conditions in which to survive (this varies depending on mycorrhiza). Increase the ability of tree root branching which may help plants to perform better in drought conditions. It would appear that mycorrhiza specific to different tree species and different tree environments produced the best root growth. However, increasing presence of mycorrhiza may not enhance root establishment on all trees (Ferrini, 2017).

· Mulching with compost – Mulching trees with course compost gave better growing results compared to pine bark mulch. Weed growth was significantly reduced in years 1 and 2. Recommended not to use over 10cm depth of course compost mulch extended out to the extent of the tree canopy (Ferrini, 2017).

· Sealing soil on newly planted trees – Different growth rates are seen when identical trees have differing types of hard standing around their root zone. The experiment sampled the effect of no hard standing, porous pavement, permeable pavement and impermeable hard surfacing. Growth rates were lower when a tree is surrounded by impermeable hard surfacing and least impaired with no hard standing around them. Porous and permeable paving surrounding trees showed tree growth rates only slightly lower than no hard standing but growth is expected to reduce in successive years. Permeable paving has an 83% reduction in ability to pass water as it gets filled with detritus (Ferrini, 2017).

From this contemporary research, Jayne and I have increased our knowledge of tree planting and what trees need in order to grow well. Our tree planting proposals at Liz Lake Associates have always been important to the company and are regularly updated to incorporate the most recent scientific knowledge we find and are adjusted to suit the environment in which the tree will be planted. This can sometimes be challenging but we understand that trees are crucial to the urban environment and we will do what we possibly can to ensure that trees don’t just survive, but thrive.

Revisiting Swiss Garden

In the final days of 2016 I visited Swiss Garden for the first time since 2012. I was a part of the design team that helped to restore the Regency garden back to its intended historical design and spent a good year of my career analysing the history of the garden and putting forward proposals that were historically accurate.

 

The project has always had a place in my heart as it was the first major project that I was a part of as a landscape architect. The garden has a magic about it too. It was designed in such a way that you could quite easily get lost, with every turn you take helping you to discover another section of the garden.

 

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What I find unusual about this garden is its composition. The garden was never intended to be a collection of flowers to please the eye. Instead the garden was designed using six key elements: mounding, water, evergreen vegetation, lawn, path and ornamentation. Lord Ongley wanted the garden to have the feel of a Swiss landscape (hence the name of the garden), but in particular wanted his guests to feel transported to the foothills of the Swiss Alps. For more history on the garden click here: http://www.shuttleworth.org/story-of-the-swiss-garden/

 

The garden is created, it is thought, to be viewed in the form of a journey with vistas opening up that are framed by carefully placed mounding, evergreen vegetation and water. None of the vistas direct your attention to points of interest outside the boundary of the garden and all views are inward-looking. I think that this contributes to the fairy-tale feel of the space, as mentioned by a guest to the garden in 1832. Many historic landscape designs encapsulate long distance views to ‘borrowed landscape’ but here, even the country mansion has been blocked from view.

 

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By following the intended historical route around the garden, every folly or ornament will be seen up close. Your first sight of many of the large follies will often be a long distance framed view across a lawn or pond. The landscape discourages you from walking directly to the points of interest, teasing you with long distance views first and then distracting you with ornamentation that is close by, thus leading you around the path. In Lord Ongley’s day, the Swiss Cottage would have been the dominant feature of the landscape and commands views from 3 directions. Arguably the best feature in the garden, the Grotto, is in the centre of the garden but is hidden behind moulding and vegetation. Only its protruding glass cupola can be glimpsed through gaps in the vegetation as you walk around. The delight of entering the Grotto is reserved as one of the final surprises the garden gifts to you. This really is a garden designed for entertainment.

 

When you take a long look at the design itself, it is a stroke of genius. Ornamentation is key to the success of the design and makes your journey worthwhile and special. You can see in the adjacent plan that 4 features (Duck island, Aviary, Night and Morning vase and Swiss Cottage) are arranged in a near perfect diamond shape that works around the long established Oak trees. Mounding and/or vegetation has been added between where there would be diagonal viewpoints. However, between opposite points a view is established over flat ground and is often framed by metal archways or carefully placed trees.

 

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The paths meander through these points of interest and you will notice that as you follow the path, you are treated to a long distance view and then subsequently a view of a feature up close. The plan below shows some of the key views in the garden. You will notice that there are views to the west and the east of the Swiss Cottage and up to the terrace. Similarly there are views that link the glass cupola of the Grotto, the Indian Kiosk and the Overlook. Vistas link the garden together and make you want to find the next jewel the garden has to offer.

 

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No original plans of the garden have ever been found, so we cannot say if this was all intentional or if there are any elements that are missing from the space. We know that there are elements that were added later in the garden’s history by Joseph Shuttleworth and subsequent to this, but we cannot know exactly what Lord Ongley’s Regency garden design was like or if the previously mentioned features were brought together on paper or directly proposed on site between 1824 and 1832. I would have taken considerable work and vision to be able to create this large and complex garden in only 8 years. Even Alan Titchmarsh would struggle with that…

 

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I must admit, it was lovely to visit the garden again and to see that the restoration has been a success. 26,000 plants have been planted to restructure the shrubberies and a number of overgrown or diseased trees have been felled. But most importantly, the garden is in safe hands and has been restored by the people that know the garden best. Kevin Hilditch and his team know the modern day challenges of the garden as well as the depth of history that makes the garden what it is today. As such, the management of the garden is structured over a long timescale and takes into account the mounding, water, evergreen vegetation, lawn, path and ornamentation to ensure that anticipated views are correct and remain open. Some big decisions had to be made during the time that the garden was closed for refurbishment, but all decisions have been made to ensure the history of this, the best preserved Regency style garden in the UK, is structured as it was intended, as a playful space designed for entertainment, enthrallment and enchantment.

Play for All – Accessible Play Areas

During my undergraduate degree I was given the opportunity to choose any topic I liked to study for my dissertation. I researched a few different topics, but ultimately there was one area in which I am passionate about. Play. In particular accessible play, or play for all. The passion for improving the lives of both adults and children with disabilities first arose when I worked two different Special Educational Needs (SEN) Schools in Chelmsford. There was a particular focus on getting the children to play outside and promoting interaction between the pupils. It is a well document fact that social skills are developed through interaction, and play is a positive and effective way to increase this knowledge.

Disability Discrimination Act: http://www.rospa.com/play-safety/services/dda/

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was first established in 1996 but was fully enforced in October 2004, it states that provisions had to be made to allow for equal opportunities for people with disabilities. The act means that it is now illegal for any disabled person to be treated in an inferior manor to those who are non-disabled. It is important to mention that the act does not mean that all play areas must be accessible, but they should take measures to ensure it is suitable for the use of disabled children. In 2004 I was 10 and too young to understand or in fact know anything about the DDA. However I vividly remember seeing new, larger swings that looked like car-seats complete with safety straps pop up in many of the play areas I was visiting as a child.

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Why is play so important?

I think in today’s society the act of play is taken for granted. Play teaches children what risks are acceptable and what risks are not – ok there are bumps and bruises along the way but they have learnt something. Play encourages the vital skills and knowledge needed for a child’s physical and emotional development. It doesn’t matter what ability or disability you may have, you the right to be able to develop these skills. It is sad to say that there are a number of children with disabilities who are not able to develop these skills in a playground the way a non-disabled child is able to. Playgrounds should be promoting interaction between all children and not creating a segregated way of playing. It should not be forgotten that the rate children develop at is never the same, everyone develops at different stages. Just because some children sadly may never develop to maturity it doesn’t mean that they are not entitled to the same opportunities as everyone else. As difficult as it may be for non-disabled children to understand why a disabled child may not be able to do certain activities, it is heart-warming to see that they will always try and find a way to include everyone. Just think of how many videos have gone viral in 2016 of school races where groups of non-disabled children would hold back and encourage a child with a disability. Now why do many play areas not promote accessibility and inclusion?

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What is inclusion in play or accessible play?

Inclusive play does not mean that the play area has to be mundane or boring; it purely means that you have to consider elements for all abilities. A child with a severe disability still has some level of ability, they are still able to experience fun, risk and play just as much as a child who is not disabled. It is wrong to assume that a child with a disability needs protecting from perceived risks more than children without disabilities.

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How do you make a play area accessible?

Play areas should cater for all abilities and disabilities. As designers we should not forget that there are all shapes and forms of ability and disability, including learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties, visual and audible impairments, as well as mental and physical disabilities. It should also be remembered that a person can have more than one disability. Due to the large variety of disabilities it is near impossible to design a play area which caters for all abilities and that is fully inclusive. It is important for a child’s self-esteem not to make it obvious that a piece of equipment has been designed specifically for inclusive purposes, the child does not want to stand out as being ‘different’.

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What makes a play area and makes it accessible?

ROSPA have identified 10 basic types of activities for child’s play. These are;

  • Swinging
  • Rocking
  • Rotating
  • Climbing / Crawling
  • Balancing
  • Sliding
  • Pretending / Role Playing
  • Training
  • Experimenting
  • Gathering
The above activities are aimed to be included in all play areas, children will naturally experiment with different ways to find a solution to a perceived problem, just as much as they will use role playing in play without many prompts from supervising adults, naturally training and gathering will be a part of this role playing. It is the other items listed that designers should be building into the play areas. It is not always possible to include all of these 10 activities, or to make all 10 fully accessible to all levels. From my point of view accessible design is about creating an environment which aims to design out segregation in play areas and creating a play area that challenges every level of ability. For the most severe disabilities sensory points around the play area may be the most inclusive way of allowing the children to interact.

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Hylands Park in Chelmsford is a great example of how a non-inclusive play area has recently been converted into a highly inclusive play area. Wide, long ramps allow for wheelchair users to access high points they might not have been able to access previously. It creates that sense of fear and risk which would have been harder for them to experience. Having seen this play area in use a number of times it is very effective and fully inclusive, able-bodied children race round the ramp system, stopping at sensory points to explore how they work. For more detail see here: http://jupiterplay.co.uk/case_study/hylands-park-chelmsford/

From my point of view accessible design is about creating an environment which aims to design out segregation in play areas and creating a play area that challenges every level of ability.

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LLA have worked on a number of accessible play areas. This is a plan of a recent play area we have worked on.

Drones in the landscape

Whether you love or loath UAV’s or widely known as drones, growth in popularity has rapidly increased in recent years and now varies from small cheaper models that can be flown around the house chasing the dog for fun, to professional models that have been used in recent years to film the likes of David Attenborough’s Planet earth.

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But with restrictions on where you can fly is a license required to gather aerial footage for a Site or populated area?….The UK Civil Aviation Authority believes so. Permission to fly drones for commercial work can be done with a drone license after obtaining it from the Aviation Authority.

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Recently Architects and Landscape architects are realising the importance of aerial footage from drones to advertise and sell a Site in ways that has only been achievable in the past by costly use of a helicopter or plane.

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The market has a good variation of affordable drones that are very capable of capturing 4K footage without forking out the major money on serious professional equipment as used to film parts of Planet Earth. The latest drone from DJI the Mavic pro is extremely portable and user friendly to the everyday enthusiast.

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Here are a few nice links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luhP0W1n-JE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luhP0W1n-JE

Cuba Street, Wellington, NZ: adaptability and evolution in urban design

On a recent trip to New Zealand I discovered Cuba Street: the bustling, bohemian core of Wellington, the country’s capital city. It’s one of the best examples of a truly characterful street design that I’ve seen for a while with its narrow and varied facades, pocket parks and play areas, sculptures and lack of traffic. It’s particular charm comes in the way that it clearly hasn’t been designed all at once but rather has been developed and altered as and when the users needed it to over time.

Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zeland

The adaptability and evolution of any urban place is key to its success and Cuba Street is one of those places. Cuba Street is nearly as old as Wellington itself having been named after one of the first ships carrying some of the earliest European pioneers in 1840. It used to be the route of Wellington’s tram lines and by 1940 was the bustling retail core of Wellington. Following the tram removal in the early 1960s the street was closed to vehicular traffic and was reopened later in the decade after public calls for it to be pedestrianised.

Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zeland, 1940's

In 1969 the famous ‘Bucket Fountain’ kinetic sculpture was installed and since then the sections between Ghuznee Street and Wakefield Street have been paved in various geometric patterns that loosely follow the placement of the old tram lines. The main axis of Cuba Street is criss-crossed by other vehicular streets leading out into the wider CBD of Wellington. The building facades are narrow, varied and, because of the highly active seismic nature of the land, the more historic buildings in Wellington have very few storeys. As you walk down the street all the conversations, interactions and everyday city activities are within earshot and sight which adds to the overall experience. Wellington is famous for its coffee-shop culture so there are many opportunities for pitstops along the way.

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The series of pocket parks, benches and stormwater gardens break up the linearity of the street and provide numerous nodes and stopping points providing many interconnected edge spaces along the length of the street. The socio-spatial margins within cities, where human habitation meets built form, have long been cited in urban design theory as key to understanding the life and character of a city. Cuba Street shows how small and gradual design interventions in city spaces help an urban place to evolve and keep up with the times.

It’s the adaptability of a design and the careful responses to a sites history that help small spatial interventions contribute to a lasting sense of place that can stand the test of time. Cuba Street has now been recognised as a historic area and is at the centre of the design codes and plans by Wellington City Council as a key example of how a coordinated approach with designers, stakeholders and users is successful in maintaining a now world-famous streets.

Olympic Legacy in full flow

As someone who has never felt the need to jump out of a perfectly good aeroplane, when the opportunity presented itself I considered it….for all of 2 seconds, then (pardon the pun) my flight instinct kicked in and I declined gracefully. The same thing happened with bungee jumping. My brain just couldn’t process the scenario in way that would result in me dangling head first over a ravine. I clearly have a rational adversity to leaping of stuff. I’d just like to point out I did go hang-gliding (And whilst that did involve running off a cliff edge I was attached to a perfectly good set of wings, apparent this was a calculated risk my brain was prepared to let me take.) Unfortunately, that was the beginning and end of my dare devil career and that was fine, except for not doing white water rafting. I love being on the water just not so keen being thrown in to it, however it still bothered me that I had lost my nerve to go rafting, so when rumours of the White Water Centre being built in Lea Valley Park for the 2012 Olympics I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I would have the opportunity to rectify my cowardice and conquer a fear at last, in a controlled environment, with calculated risks that my brain could rationalise and, on the other hand I would have to overcome a fear!

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My Intrigue and apprehension about the proposed centre was echoed amongst the local communities, but for very different reasons. With concerns such as developing within an existing open space, perceptions of loss of use of that space, disruption during the build sustainability as an affordable amenity to the public. I could understand some of their concerns having visited a few former Olympic host cities such as Barcelona and Los Angeles and seen what had happened, not just to some of sporting venues but to some of the public spaces developed in relation to the Olympics. The contrast in the quality of public spaces across the cities was of no surprise, after all wealth and poverty juxtaposed is an inevitable characteristic of a city. On the whole some cities were transformed for the better. (Further reading – http://thisbigcity.net/olympic-cities-urban-legacies-from-three-decades-of-the-olympic-games/)

However, after the athletes, the world’s press and the funding had long gone the less prestigious sites, particularly smaller, less central public parks and landscapes were now suffering from extensive neglect. The publicity around the condition of many 2004 Athens Olympic sites did not help to reassure people that developments such as the white water centre would survive in the long term.

However, Four years on from the London 2012 Olympic Games the White Water Centre, run and maintained by Lea Valley Park appears to be thriving. As one of a few facilities in the UK the Olympic team train at the centre and International competitions are held at this venue but it’s the level of public use and contribution to the local area that has surprised me.

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With a wide range of activities from canoe courses to one off rafting experiences, the centre draws people in from all over the country. Having now visited on many occasions (one of which was to face the fear and raft the rapids) it is evident that is not just the water based activities that make this venue so popular. I’m not sure what the water sport version of après ski is but the alfresco ‘Terrace Bar’ with its live music, BBQ and tree top views of the park is proving really popular as a local venue for those wanting a more relaxed experience. There is a diverse age range visiting the centre from toddlers playing in the sand pit whilst parents relax at the café, Dog walkers making use of the footpath links to the wider park to the retired seventy -something canoeist racing down the rapids and everyone else in between. It would seem that the uniqueness and diversity of the centre’s facilities and the location at Lea Valley Park will continue to contribute to the success of this outer city Olympic venue that will hopefully remain a legacy for to the local and wider community.

Below is a list of some fascinating images of post legacy olympic sites, have a look for yourselves – you will be amazed!

http://www.indigoplanning.com/what-we-do/track-record/105-lee-valley-white-water-centre.html

http://www.msn.com/en-gb/sport/olympics/abandoned-olympic-venues-around-the-world/ar-BBv0DI9?li=BBoPWjP#image=BBrM2uJ|5

http://www.msn.com/en-gb/sport/olympics/abandoned-olympic-venues-around-the-world/ar-BBv0DI9?li=BBoPWjP#image=BBrM2uJ|12

http://uk.businessinsider.com/abandoned-olympic-venues-around-the-world-photos-rio-2016-8/#panels-on-the-outside-of-the-beach-volleyball-facility-are-falling-off-29

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3730579/As-Rio-Olympics-kicks-eerie-photographs-reveal-derelict-sites-past-games.html

Recent historic landscape events

Last year I completed a MSc course at Bath University on the ‘Conservation of Historic Landscapes and Cultural Landscapes’ in a CPD capacity, allowing me to contribute further to Liz Lake Associates’ well-established specialism in historic landscapes, a legacy of Liz Lake herself.

Since then I have been fortunate enough, courtesy of Liz Lake Associates, to attend a series of heritage-related events and conferences, to continue to strengthen my knowledge and skills in this fascinating and complex field.

A Landscape Institute South West (LISW) trip to the National Trust’s Tyntesfield this month, organized by myself and Samantha (Leathers), generated a very respectable turnout, with attendees from as far afield as Cornwall.

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

The torrential rain did little to dampen our spirits as we networked over lunch, and then enjoyed an informative talk and (admittedly rather damp) walk by Paul Evans, Head Gardener, who focused on some of the quirkier, behind-the-scenes aspects of the historic estate restoration, giving us a real – and refreshingly honest – insight into the trials, tribulations and successes of such an ambitious project.

We were also lucky to have Paul’s predecessor, Deborah Evans, present, thus enabling us to understand how the restoration project unfolded right from Day 1.

I then visited Wrest Park to attend English Heritage’s conference entitled ‘Capability Brown the Technician: Gardener, Architect, Hydrologist’, comprising a diverse mix of short lectures and a tour of the park, which is in the midst of a challenging restoration and re-presentation programme – another prime example of conservation in action.

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

One of the emerging themes of the day was that, despite Brown’s prolific involvement in over 200 sites across Britain, he left very few written records and no published works, to the extent that “We never really know what Brown actually did” (I quote John Phibbs). Perhaps this sense of mystery fuels our ongoing fascination with the designer?

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

A further theme, common to both of the above events, is the enormous amount of research, reflection, thought and problem-solving which these landscape restoration projects demand. A complex – and immensely rewarding – field indeed.

 

The first rule of pond club, don’t mention pond club.

Mat Hull, Kris Bowen and myself decided to take the plunge at the much talked about Kings Cross Pond Club on Friday the 29th April 2016.

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So what exactly is the Kings Cross Pond Club?

Well lets start with the the regeneration around Kings Cross and the Pond itself…

Apparently is describes itself as swimming pond-cum-art installation, personally I’m a swimmer (well triathlete) so to me this was just another excuse for some exercise (except in work time!). First impressions of the massive 20 year Kings Cross regeneration area are impressive, the public realm, architecture and quality of the materials used are of a very high quality, there seems to be an abundance of security people around the site, not to mention a large number of cleaners and road sweepers, I hope these continue in the future and not just during construction!

From an outsiders/tourist point of view it is an imposing but attractive part of London, very impressive. Read more about this from a recent blog by LLA Landscape Architect Mat Hull http://www.lizlake.com/2015/08/kings-x/

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The pool itself is engulfed in a mound of earth (we presume from construction workings) surrounded by cranes, bulldozers, trains and towering new build apartments. Whilst screening is minimal there is a structure of planting some of which is new and needs to grow more to allow the pond to feel more settled into its environment. Although I didn’t realise that it was only a two year project so will be removed which seems a shame as its a real asset to workers and residents alike.

 

What exactly is the Pond?

This is the UK’s first ever man-made freshwater public bathing pool, its natural and chemical free. Built two metres above ground level (10m wide x 40m long) its central pool is surrounded by both hard and soft landscaping, including pioneer plants, wild flowers grasses, and bushes so that the environment evolves as the seasons change. The swimming pond is purified through a natural closed-loop process, using wetland and submerged water plants to filter and sustain clean and clear water.

Two simultaneous processes are at play in the regeneration zone.

  • Plants absorb the nutrients and transform them into plant mass while releasing oxygen.
  • Floating algae and other organic particles including pathogenic germs are reduced by the zooplankton.
 

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Filter Zone:

Gravel beds which compose the filter zone collect a growing biofilm on the surface of the gravel stones. The biofilm is fed by the nutrients brought in by the swimmers and the oxygen produced by the plants.

The biofilm mineralizes the organic matter and reduces the content of pathogenic germs. The lime stone gravel release calcium in the water which bind the phosphorus elements. The solid particles not dissolved in the water settle down as sediment on the ground.

Now you’ve been blown away with science let discuss the actual experience!

 

The club

So we arrive at the pool, swimmers in hand ready to take the plunge, we head into the tarmac area with a few cubicles and wire cages for your clothes, I read the blackboard and the water temp is a rather chilly 11.4 degrees, “thats not too cold” i chirp up, and off we go the get changed, All the accessories – the fencing, cubicles, the roof of the gazebo-ish structure where you change, the signs painted on the floor – are a bright building-site red.

There are massive boards hung on the wire fencing, showing you how the pool is configured and how it works. “You are entering a living laboratory,” it says, “in which responsibilities towards nature become important.”

The pools proportions are important: on one curve, a reedy raft; then an area of underwater plants, an integral part of the closed-loop filtering system. Then the main area, which gets pretty deep at 2.8m.

As we head up the steps to the pool we are greeted by one of the lifeguards, he’s wearing full winter gear and a parka coat! “Can we just dive straight in”? I ask. “we don’t recommend it, unless you do a lot of open water swimming” he says. So i turn to the lads and say “how bad can it be?” then we take it in turns to dive in, the look on their faces sums it up. Its cold, in fact its freezing, but theres that brief moment of achieving something that makes us all smile as we then jump out and head off into the sauna.

We do make it back into the pool another two times, and on the third attempt I manage six lengths of crawl. I’m feeling very pleased that we made the effort to swim here, it is an amazing place in an amazing setting. So go and see the wonderful public realm and book yourself a swim session at the same time.

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King’s Cross Pond will be open for the next year for a limited amount of swimmers every day, whatever the weather. (Limited to allow the plants to do their job – there’s no point setting this project up to fail.) The sunny days will be glorious, but the rainy, windy ones will provoke a response in you, too. In two years, we’ll have the next London swimming venture – the Thames Baths: a lido in the river, which is currently kickstarting to its next phase.

To book a swim visit: http://www.kingscrosspond.club/

More on the lido project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thamesbaths/thames-baths-a-new-beautiful-lido-for-the-river-th/updates

 

For the Plant Buffs out there, here is a list of the plants used within the pool:

Regeneration Plants

Nuphar lutea – ‘Brandy Bottle’

Nymphaea sp – ‘Water Lily’

Elodea canadensis – ‘Canadian Pondweed’

Hippuris vulgaris – ‘Mares Tail’

Lagarosiphon major – ‘Water Miffoil’

 

Filter Plants

Cyperus longus – ‘Galingale’

Iris pseudacorus – ‘Flag Iris’

Mentha aquatic – ‘Water Mint’

Phragmites communis – ‘Norfolk Reed’

Phragmites communis ‘Var’ – ‘Variegrated Norfolk Reed’

Juncus effuses – ‘Common Rush’

Caltha palustris – ‘Marsh Marigold’

Lythrum salicaria – ‘Purple Loosestrife’

Mimulus luteus – ‘Monkey Musk’