The public realm at Kings Cross is a 21st century piece of landscape architecture that Britain can be proud of. I walked through the area on my way to a design team meeting for one of our projects and was astounded at the quality of the landscape, specifically the hard landscape details and the planting design.
Above all, I admire that this is a landscape designed for people. That may sound like a strange thing to say, however there are far too many landscape designs in the urban realm that are not designed for the people that use them. In actual fact, you sometimes find that people are actively discouraged from using a space as the designer may not have considered them part of the programme of the space. Perhaps individuals may ruin a space’s aesthetic, or humans just were not considered important compared to roads or utilities. There could be many reasons.
The landscape at Kings Cross is not like this. In an area so large, a variety of spaces can be afforded that revolve around the site user. For instance, water has been used in many forms to add moment and entertainment to everybody who has the pleasure of coming to this part of London. At the centrepiece of the design is Granary Square which utilises one thousand animated water jets which is an amazing spectacle. The fountains give the space life and provide energy and performance to an area which could have been insipid. Regent’s Canal winds through the site introducing a further layer of history and a sense of serenity to the area. There are also water jets at Lewis Cubitt Square which can be watched whilst eating street food, waterfalls in Pancras Square and Handyside Gardens which incorporates a rill as part of its playground. Water activates each and every one of these spaces giving the catalyst for enjoyment.
Ensuring that a variety of seating has been included as part of the design has clearly taken high precedence, this allows people to stop and enjoy the landscape. You have the choice of sitting in the sun or in the shade, in public or in a private area, in a formal situation at a restaurant or in an informal situation overlooking the canal. In an area that includes the University of the Arts London as well as being a space for tourists and office workers, this range of seating should not be underestimated when looking into the success of this design.
As a planting designer I found the planting in Lewis Cubitt Square and Handyside Gardens stimulating. In modern day planting design it is rare to see herbaceous plants prioritised in an urban environment. Here, the qualities of a planting scheme that incorporates seasonality can be admired. When I visited Lewis Cubitt Square Erigeron and Rosa species were in flower and were intermingled with Pachysandra, Lavender, Epimedium and Helleborus ready and waiting to provide interest at another point in the year. The range of plants on display at Handyside Gardens was astounding! There is enough planting interest there to be the focus of its own blog post, but it is satisfying to know that a fellow planting designer has been trusted to use a palette of this ilk. Planting calms site users, provides interest, invites ecology and creates privacy and is a multifunctional tool that brings so much to a site and its users.
But don’t take my word for it, I would encourage you to explore this landscape for yourself and take note of what it is that makes you feel comfortable to spend time there. My experience was made by the planting, moving water and varied seating but perhaps your experience will be different. Kings Cross is a flexible space designed to change on a daily basis, please take the time to discover the most exciting urban landscape London has to offer.