“We accentuated the dramatic features of Whitfield Gardens by uplighting the canopies of the London plane trees and the restored Fitzrovia Mural, painted 40 years ago as a record of the life of the local community. There’s also integrated lighting along the new linear timber seating.”
Michael Grubb, lighting designer
When LDA Design began work on Whitfield Gardens as part of Camden’s West End Project in 2018, the challenge was to make a once-loved urban square and gardens feel safe and inviting again.
Whitfield Gardens enjoys a view of Heal’s elegant flagship store on Tottenham Court Road, but it had large areas of overgrown planting and felt degraded. Lighting was poor, mostly borrowed from adjacent streets, and anti-social behaviour had made it a no-go area after dark. Local residents wanted to reclaim the space and create a welcoming space which belonged to everyone. Getting the lighting right was a key part of that transformation.
Michael Grubb Studio’s lighting strategy creates a cosy ‘outdoor living room’ in busy central London, by selecting a very warm colour temperature, 2700 Kelvin (K). The look and feel of a space is greatly affected by the colour of the light, measured in Kelvin, such as 6000K for very cool daylight or 2000K for candlelight. Whitfield Gardens’ warm atmosphere evokes a distinct and tranquil space where you would want to sit and chat, but it also feels bright enough to encourage exploration.
Michael Grubb points out that it is combining different layers of light that opens up a space. “We accentuated the dramatic features of Whitfield Gardens by uplighting the canopies of the London plane trees and the restored Fitzrovia Mural, painted 40 years ago as a record of the life of the local community. There’s also integrated lighting along the new linear timber seating. It was decided, though, that while the routes should be lit by columns from dusk to dawn, decorative lighting should turn off at 11pm. We wanted to conserve energy and preserve darkness, to help protect ecology and wildlife.”
The space has been made safe in many other ways too. Tim South, Principal Landscape Architect at LDA Design and the project leader, says that the shady corners with their intimidating den-like spaces had to go. “We re-configured the space and for the gardens, we introduced a new planting palette suitable for woodland understorey, with a concentration on white flowering plants. It is lush but low, to provide direct views throughout.”
“Natural surveillance is key to improving a public space like this and so there is a range of seating, including cube clusters, to encourage people to linger and colonise the place. We’re hoping the long dining table will prove as popular in the evening as it already is at lunch time.”
Councillor Adam Harrison, Cabinet member for a Sustainable Camden, says that this green space is loved by many. “We are very proud of the work, which demonstrates our commitment to making beautiful, safe and usable public spaces that everyone can enjoy”.
Images copyright Michael Grubb Studios