Located in a prime position overlooking leafy Holland Park, Holland Park Villas is an exclusive gated residential development in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea by developer, Native Land. The architecture was conceived by John McAslan + Partners and comprises four contemporary ‘villas’ offering 68 elegant apartments and four penthouses that benefit from spectacular views over a private courtyard garden and perimeter woodland landscape by Gillespies.
Gillespies were commissioned to design a sequence of luxurious private and communal gardens for the residents’ direct access and sole use. Driven by the proximity and natural beauty of neighbouring Holland Park, the landscape design draws in the woodland understory, creating a setting for the existing perimeter trees on site and embedding the new buildings within this very sensitive site, with the woodland and natural landscape imposing itself onto the architecture.
Whilst the natural beauty of Holland Park Villas created the private setting for the development, the spatial sequence through the entrance plaza to central courtyard and onward to one’s front door was of key importance – from a dramatic red Acer tree on arrival, to the beautiful central courtyard where paths wind through naturalistic planting, leading to a tranquil perimeter walk.
The entrance plaza sets the expectation of a high quality user experience for residents and guests. It is the most formal part of the scheme with tiered, clipped hedging mimicking the strong geometry of the building. This rationale creates a series of transitional spaces with a clear, logical articulation. A line of pleached hornbeam trees provides a sense of enclosure to the entrance courtyard and vehicle drop-off, where a magnificent 30-year-old Acer palmatum takes centre stage.
The central courtyard is the heart of the scheme. Designed to feel mature and natural, the courtyard features a combination of trees and soft planting, inspired by the native woodland park. The garden is surrounded on all sides by clipped hedging and a water moat, defining the threshold between the courtyard and residents’ private gardens, with the villas accessed by bridges off the central path. Whether arriving home, or enjoying the gardens, residents are required to cross the bridge thresholds and experience the water running gently over the black pebbles.
In contrast to the strong, architectural forms of the moat and clipped hedges, an ornamental woodland understory planting mix flows through the courtyard, giving a naturalistic and sensory experience. A selection of clipped forms and multi-stem sculptural trees add a height to the human experience, offering instant impact. The central tree occupies a pivotal position which mirrors the opulence and magnificence of the entrance plaza Acer. The planting mix, composition and layout ensures visual and sensory interest throughout the year, from springing bulbs and summer flowers, to autumn colour and winter seed heads, as well as establishing ultimate tranquillity and privacy for residents.
The central stone path provides an established route through the courtyard towards the villas and up to the perimeter woodland walk. Off the central path, stepping-stones meander through the naturalistic planting revealing reflection pools concealed within aquatic planting, seating areas and clipped box balls that add a playful expression of artifice to the naturalistic planting.
Technical constraints such as slab depth and loading capabilities was a key challenge in creating an oasis garden, which by definition must feel lush and established. The slab was a constant depth across the courtyard providing only one meter of soil depth. Gillespies developed a complex plan of strata cells to maximise the lateral rooting zone to sustain the mature trees, in combination with lightweight void former to reduce weights.
Steps from the courtyard lead up to a secluded woodland walk that offers residents a peaceful place to walk and engage with nature. It reflects an extension of Holland Park, wrapping around three sides of the development, offering a visual amenity for residents. Residents can also meander through the woodland planting, and enjoy a more naturalistic experience whilst within the confines of the development.
Critically, and through consultation with RBKC and Friends of Holland Park, the set back of the development and establishment of the woodland buffer ensures the development has very little physical or visual impact on Holland Park.
The woodland walk consists of an array of wildflowers, ferns and native trees. The woodland creates habitats to enhance the ecological status of the site and small elements of natural play concealed within the layered planting contribute towards a beautiful and functional landscape. A large water attenuation tank is located within the woodland belt.
Landscape Architecture: Gillespies
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: John McAslan + Partner (Concept Architects), John Robertson Architects (Executive Architects), Frosts (Soft) (Landscape Contractors), Careys (Hard) (Landscape Contractors)
Location: London, UK
Design year: 2013-2018
Year Built: 2015- 2017
Images copyright: John Sturrock, Gillespies