Imagine a place where a wall is a living garden full of plants that provide food, nutrition and habitat to birds and insects all year round... Where there is a drinking water fountain for people to rehydrate at and fill their bottles of water for their day ahead... Where a bicycle pump furnishes cyclists with air for their tyres...
In short an open public space that establishes a vision where urban ecology and local community meet.
This is place is "50 Stokes Croft" in Bristol.
A century ago the project site housed 'Clements' a lovely looking Victorian chemist. This was during a period where the local area (Stokes Croft) was an up-and-coming place to be. By the 1970's the area had fallen into disrepair and the corner site building was knocked down to make way for a soon to be abandoned road widening scheme. Since then the site has been continuously used as an advertising zone and a local fly-tipping ground.
Cities are dominated by sharp and regular forms. Everywhere we look we perceive some variation of square, rectangle and triangle combined. Man-made structures are linear interventions in the built environment. Functional, practical and right-angled.
Natural forms on the other hand are soft and irregular to the eye. When we are walking in the hills or the forests our eyes relax. Right-angles are almost non-existent.
With '50 Stokes Croft' we wanted to explore the interplay between the 'man-made' and the 'natural'. The play begins with squares within squares within rectangles and ends with the visual form of squares and lines being enveloped by organic ever-changing plant life.
This interplay is an exploration of the projects underlying design concept // a space where nature breaks through and envelops a man-made intervention therein creating an alternative vision of public art in the urban environment.
Our intention with this project was to create an unusual, beautiful and living artwork that spreads a sense of tranquility throughout an area that is busy day and night. The underlying intention here has always been to engage with the urban design movement of // Urban Acupuncture // - where art and architecture meet and conspire to create healthy, happy and flourishing cities. This environmental sensibility is the thread that binds the whole project together.
Our response to the project's public art brief was to create a work that that combines a respect for our history whilst simultaneously promoting a radical vision of art and sustainability.
One of the most important aspects of the design concept stems from the question we posed to ourselves of how to create a public space that has an ongoing sense of meaning. Our answer to this with '50 Stokes Croft' has been to create an <infrastructure> that will be used by the local community, those coming to enjoy or work in the area and those just passing by.
The installation of the first drinking water fountain in Bristol in decades coupled with an upright bicycle pump creates an infrastructure centred upon the needs of people and the environment. The initial desire to install a drinking fountain stemmed from the fact that the area has a high level of homelessness and alcoholism. However, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists pass the site on a daily basis. So by creating an 'urban watering hole' 50 Stokes Croft becomes a place that has meaning through use, a space where people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to interact and meet.
One of the most significant achievements of this public art project is that we have created a new and open public green space at a site that has been an ugly scar on the cityscape since the 1970’s. ‘re-imagining 50 Stokes Croft’ is a distinctive landmark in Bristol that people come to enjoy, meet one another at and make practical use of the community resources of the bicycle pump and drinking water fountain. This is achieved through a balanced approach to hard and soft landscape design.
The reclaiming of public space that assists the shared creative process of shaping a positive and vibrant local identity is something that makes our job exciting and lastingly worthwhile.
in to our cities is one of our self-imposed roles as designers. Turning
hard grey into soft green is the simplest expression of this idea.
The City Road gateway is our defining urban ecology project, in making a tough unloved urban site into a living, breathing place. Our emphasis on ecological design through materials, methods and ideas promotes a move to a healthy and biodiverse urban ecosystem.
The vertical garden we have designed is unique and pushes the development of vertical gardens closer to an environmental position. Many vertical gardens are fantastically beautiful and have architectural and environmental merit (building protection, insulation, reduction of urban heat island effect) but have low biodiversity values. This is principally due to the use of an inorganic growing material rather than soil. Soil is an amazing material that supports an ecosystem of millions of micro-organisms and essential fungi that a critical to plant life.
Our 'garden' is pioneering in taking inspiration from our local environment (The Avon Gorge) and re-imagining this habitat in a tough urban setting. Recycled and locally produced soil and local stone form our growing medium, and also effectively creates a massive habitat for insect life. The planting scheme take influence from the idea of using plants with purpose. All the plants have been selected on the basis of biodiversity, edibility, heritage and medicinal values. Our planting scheme also emphasises plants that are drought tolerant once established - our long term desire is to reduce the need to water the garden, reducing demand on resources.