J&L Gibbons: Alexandra Road Park was designed and built in the late 1970’s and is at the heart of the large Grade II* listed Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate. It has recently been completely restored thanks to a grant from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund. It reopened in July 2015.
This is an unusual, modernist park. The layout of the ramps, walls, and spaces was designed from 1968 by the architect Neave Brown of Camden Architects’ Department, as an integral part of the whole estate. The landscape architect, Janet Jack used planting design to turn the narrow, windy site into a series of sheltered spaces for the comfort and enjoyment of the residents and visitors.
The park is 1.7 hectares in size and is structured by a series of diagonal paths which cut across the long narrow space, creating a series of ‘outdoor rooms’ with different characters, originally incorporating five playgrounds also designed by Janet Jack. This structure is enlivened by a dramatic three-dimensional landscape of ridges and valleys. These create excellent views over the space from raised gardens and plazas, as well as more intimate sunken spaces.
Evergreen and deciduous, flowering and fruiting shrubs with a backing of trees of many species, textures and colours were planted. These created a dense backdrop of foliage for the large-scale architecture of the surrounding buildings. The year-round interest of the planting enhances the different spaces, allowing people to relax and wildlife to thrive. Children can play on the sunny, grassy meadow, explore planted banks in a setting of native vegetation unusual in urban housing developments. The playgrounds nestle into the created landscape with mature trees which separate them from the urban surroundings creating a tranquil environment.
Since its completion in 1979, Alexandra Road Park had fallen into disrepair, and the play equipment had been removed. In 2010 a group of local residents started work on a bid for funding to restore and improve the park, and formed a partnership with Camden Council.
J & L Gibbons Landscape Architects and Erect Architecture were appointed as the designers for the park restoration, and Around the Block project-managed the entire process on behalf of Camden. Stakeholder liaison has been key throughout the project with the project team working very closely with the Tenants and Residents Association and the Friends of Alexandra Road Park. The ability to review proposals with the original landscape architect, Janet Jack, was also a unique opportunity.
The project received £1.5m funding through the joint Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery funded ‘Parks for People’ programme in 2013. This enabled an ambitious project to be delivered which aimed to:
• restore and enhance the original park landscapes and planting
• restore the hard landscaping and improve accessibility
• reinterpret the original play landscapes with new playgrounds reflecting current best practice
• improve biodiversity across the site
• enable the original design intent to be experienced and appreciated by a wide range of local residents and visitors.
The restoration of Alexandra Road Park was fascinating from the outset, involving the restoration of one of the most modern heritage assets that Heritage Lottery Fund have funded and cited as “the most significant landscape of its type in the UK” . Many will be familiar with the iconic architecture of the estate designed by Neave Brown, but may not even know of the park designed by Janet Jack in 1979 which lies at the centre of the estate.
During the project the design team met with Janet Jack several times to enable a full appreciation of the original design intent, reflected in the Conservation Management Plan researched expertly by Sarah Couch which formed the fundamental basis of the approach to untangling the wildness, opening views, restoring and revealing the engineered topography and structure of the park defined by distinctive geometry of the walls and level changes, and enhancing the rich spatial pattern. This enabled a review of design proposals thematically with Janet around planting, biodiversity and play. These stimulating sessions considered the management of the existing resource to preserve the sense of ‘wildness’ while opening views and developing the understory; grafting of new elements including play features designed by Erect Architecture; evolving a long-term vision based on sound horticultural and conservation practice, to ensure that through design the park management is much more than operational, rather it is a creative process of securing the park’s character and qualities for future generations.
PROJECT NAME: Alexandra Road Park
LOCATION: London Borough of Camden, London, UK
START ON SITE: 07.09.14
GROSS SITE AREA: 12,500m2
CONSTRUCTION COST (Total project cost): £ 1.25m
CONSTRUCTION COST PER m2 (Total project cost): £ 100/m2
CLIENT: London Borough of Camden, Heritage Lottery Fund, Friends of Alexandra Road Park
LANDCSAPE ARCHITECT (LEAD CONSULTANT): J & L Gibbons
ARCHITECT/ PLAY AREA DESIGNER: Erect Architecture
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Jane Wernick Associates
M&E CONSULTANT: Skelly & Couch
Cost Consultant: Artelia UK
PROJECT MANAGER: Around the Block
MANAGEMENT AND MAINTENANCE PLANNER: Around the Block
HISTORIC LANDSCAPE CONSULTANT: Sarah Couch Historic Landscapes
GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Objectif
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Michael Grubb Studio
ACTIVITY PLANNER: MTW Consultants
MAIN CONTRACTOR: Ground Control
IMAGE PHOTO CREDITS: All images copyright J&L Gibbons unless stated otherwise in the gallery section.