Debated for centuries, the role of nature in the contemporary city has never seemed more essential or imperiled. As a result of great efforts to maintain the illusion of ‘nature’, the relationship between landscape and the city has been one of great stress, strain and contrivance.
Landscape was once the connective tissue between constructed elements and a continuous root system beneath our feet. Increasingly in the contemporary city, plant material appears as tiny islands adrift in vast oceans of concrete. The ground plane is a thin and brittle construct masking the hollow cavity below that houses urban infrastructure, transit systems and parking garages. Container planting has resulted in a scarce and scattered landscape of individual plants relegated to individual vessels.
‘Parklets’ and vertical gardens, enjoying a continuing storm of media attention, function not as environments but compact and highly maintained emblems of the natural world. These isolated micro landscapes serve neither an authentic urban experience nor a healthy ecological habitat. As ‘green’ spaces they contribute little to the natural world they so poorly imitate.
Openwork seeks to reimagine the urban landscape and its delivery system while restoring physical communication through human interaction and engagement. With a dearth of conventional planting opportunities, the project proposes a landscape prototype that integrates structure, planting medium and plant material in a performative unit. The project introduces a series of interconnected infrastructural loops to harvest and store stormwater. The planting strategy embraces the ubiquitous ongoing challenge of planting with a minimum of earth. A series of undulating raised beds are lushly planted, creating meandering corridors that lead to open spaces, large and small. The sealable modules correlate to produce opportunities: spatial, programmatic and infrastructural.
A site devoid of native soil and occupied by a piece of historic infrastructure, Mt Pleasant, the flagship sorting office for Royal Mail presents the perfect opportunity to create an exciting and verdant experience through the deployment of an urban planting module.
Inspired by the significance of the site as a center for mass communication, the proposal would reclaim Mt Pleasant, turning it into a destination for city dwellers and visitors to gather and explore nature in the heart of the city. Through the scale and aggregation, Openwork can achieve continuity as a habitat and versatility as an environment to occupy. This continuous habitat is not only limited to the site of Mt Peasant but grows and weaves itself throughout the city as wherever the prototypes are installed, blurring the line between inorganic and organic.
This dynamic topography would incorporate onsite storm water retention, creating a self-contained system of irrigation and drainage that repurposes the hollow underground spaces of the sorting facility. At the scale of the site, a series of high and low elevations would punctuate the gentle landscape, draining and filtering water through raised beds and storing it below ground; at the scale of the city, Openwork would introduce a series of closed systems for the harvest and storage of rainwater. A cellular approach would regionalize the city by rainwater collection and reuse.
Openwork: The All London Lattice
Location | Mt Pleasant, London, United Kingdom
Design Firm | landcraft
Images & Text | landcraft