From grey to green
Alfred Place Gardens
“Alfred Place Gardens represents a radical shift in the way that streets are expected to function. This is urban landscape solving complex challenges, and street redefined as valued place.”
Tim South, LDA Design Associate and design lead for Alfred Place Gardens
London needs to become greener as it also grows denser. Achieving this will involve creatively reclaiming space, from roof to street, turning grey to green, explains LDA Design associate and designer, Tim South.
Running parallel to Tottenham Court Road, Alfred Place has long been a commonplace city street, more service road and car park than anything else. With narrow pavements and nowhere to sit, it was a place to either avoid or hurry through.
That’s all changed with its transformation into an inviting linear park, a tranquil green oasis in one of the busiest parts of the capital. Now renamed Alfred Place Gardens, it is Camden Council’s first new park in the area for 25 years and part of the borough’s major investment into the Tottenham Court Road area, including its public spaces through the West End Project. It is a welcome softening of the city.
Camden Council invited LDA Design to rethink its streets and spaces in central London in response to the challenges the city faces today.
Important drivers included improving air quality, supporting greater biodiversity and reducing flood risk. The planting mix for Alfred Place Gardens offers year-round colour and new habitats; with lounging lawns framed by grasses. The Gardens provide a variety of experiences, and the planting works hard to create cohesion. The street’s mature trees have all been retained and are joined by a line of Amelanchier, which provide cooling dappled shade. There will be lots here for pollinators, and summer will see flowering cherry trees and herbaceous perennial blooms. Planting has been selected to withstand hot, dry summers. Non-toxic biodegradable moisture retention gels in the soil provide back up.
The park is also designed to tolerate sudden deluges. Permeable resin paths include 30% recycled content, with absorbed rainwater quenching the borders. Combined with the significant areas of planting where there was once none, this delivers a substantial new water catchment area. Tackling the climate and nature emergencies must also lead to more equitable places. Camden wanted to find ways to better support health and wellbeing by improving everyday access to nature and creating more spaces to socialise and play. We know that just two hours of contact with nature per week reduces the risk of individual poor health by 45%.
In Alfred Place Gardens, a path meanders to provide a leisurely route. Elegant, curved timber seating is designed to spark easy conversations and provide the ideal lunchtime spot in an area chronically short of open spaces. The first visitors took immediate ownership, stretching out on the seating to read in the sunshine. New play spaces encourage families to spend time here. The South Crescent is perfect for community events.
Alfred Place Gardens was shaped through engagement with local people and represents a radical shift in the way that streets are expected to function. This is urban landscape solving complex challenges, and street redefined as valued place.
Designed by LDA Design, with Michael Grubb Studios for lighting, contract managed by NRP, engineered by Arcadis, and built by ID Verde. The original framework was prepared in 2016 by Camden and DSDHA.
This article first appeared in the Landscape Institute’s Journal, Summer edition.
All photos by @maple.studio