London-based Alexandra Steed URBAN have a vision to build better places for people.
In such a populated urban environment like Shoreditch, why was it important that Long & Waterson had so much emphasis on green spaces?
One of our main interests at URBAN is creating connections between people and nature. By encouraging people to be more aware of their environment, we can help them to see the world afresh and therefore make stronger associations between people and places.
Within urban environments, we feel that encouraging that connection is even more important. The joy encountered when witnessing a tree’s leaves turning from green to red, bulbs bursting forth in the spring, the warmth of the sun touching the skin on a summer morning, or the quality of light filtering through a winter mist, is miraculous. It is these beautiful moments that bring joy to our everyday experience. And it is these moments that we are passionate about creating for others to experience, especially within our dense and busy cities.
At Long Street, in particular, we and the client both felt it was important to create a calm retreat; a green oasis within this edgy and gritty location. We appreciate that Shoreditch is a place of strong contrasts, and wanted to express that in the design: black/white, rough/smooth, industrial/natural, red/green, hard/soft, light/dark.
This concept is strongly rooted in the aesthetic of Shoreditch, where plants cling to brick facades, artists paint bold geometric patterns on blank walls, and people’s dress sense embraces the weird, the wonderful and the unconventional. We felt revealing Shoreditch’s unique inner city character helps to express its industrial past with a renewed urban chic
What was the process then of choosing what plants to include in these spaces?
When considering what plants to use for projects, we always start with thinking about the type of experience we would like to create for the users of the space, and how the concept can be expressed through the planting palette. For example, what is the quality of light as it filters through the leaves, in what areas can you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, how can plants frame views and create ‘rooms’ within the landscape, how can we layer planting to create depth or force perspective, what scents arise in certain locations? There are many things to consider.
And importantly, we must always consider what plants could not only survive but thrive in the particular light and soil conditions, what selection will be beautiful year-round, and how we can create interest over time as plants change through their life cycle. We feel that plants are particularly wonderful because of their transient nature, and this should always be celebrated.
Can you explain the benefits of the ‘Green Wall’ – which is one of the focal points of the development?
This wall is very important to the character of the development. It frames the entry view, and is easily seen from outside and within the development. It needs to make a bold statement, and one that effectively captures the design concept. The climbers will gradually take over the brick wall, just like so many plants that desperately seek homes on other brick walls throughout Shoreditch, once again embracing this concept of juxtaposition and contrast.
The plants selected for the green wall are chosen for their suitability for the light conditions, robustness, and for their seasonal interest. And of course, the greened wall will also contribute to ecological and wildlife value.
What is the long-term goal of having these natural spaces, not just at Long & Waterson, but any new urban development?
One of our main interests at URBAN is creating connections between people and nature. By encouraging people to be more aware of their environment, we can help people to see the world afresh and therefore make stronger associations between people and place.
Within urban environments we feel that encouraging that connection is even more important. The joy encountered when witnessing a tree’s leaves turning from green to red, bulbs bursting forth in the spring, the warmth of the sun touching the skin on a summer morning, or the quality of light filtering through a winter mist, is miraculous. It is these beautiful moments that bring joy to our everyday experience. And it is these moments that we are passionate about creating for others to experience even within our dense and busy cities.
How do you see these green spaces developing over the years? Will the spaces adapt?
We believe that one of the most wonderful qualities of landscape is that it is temporal and transient, never the same, even moment to moment. This is what life is about. Typically people try to control things, but in the landscape, the key is to embrace change, celebrate it, and plan for what may occur over time. The spaces will naturally develop and grow over time, and the people using the space will help to determine how it adapts. While we like to encourage people to use the landscape and plan for flexibility, we are quite happy to see how people naturally begin to use the space and what patterns emerge. Sometimes it can be quite surprising! This is part of the on-going process and relationship created between person and place that is so dynamic and exciting.
For more information, visit Alexandra Steed’s website: http://www.alexandrasteedurban.com
All pictures © Amandine Alessandra (@theinteriorphotographer)