Friday, 12 July 2013

Design Day: Activating the Canal Front

Sketching out initial ideas following group discussion on the canal
‘Design Day’ is an annually occurring in-house design competition, where the whole office spends one day getting creative juices flowing and bonding over model making and quick-fire sketching.  This year’s theme was to come up with ideas to improve our new studio environment.  The day kicked off with members expressing an interest in a particular area of the office by each showing a slide of thought-provoking concept images to spark ideas.  Teams based on common interests were agreed by the end of breakfast and a busy day ensued.

Models were sprouting up within hours of kick-off
On ‘Team Canal’ I was joined by John Romer, Robin Nicholson and Ed Robertson - a fusion of engineering knowledge, horticultural interests and nimble model making fingers came together for a thoroughly enjoyable day of thinking about ways to improve our guerrilla garden and create better canal-side visibility for Cullinan Studio.

The towpath garden today
Since moving into our new office space, the studio has been slowly ‘bewildering’ the neglected strip of land on the canal towpath in front of our building.  A concrete worktop (salvaged from our old office) has been transformed into a new bench that has enjoyed plenty of use during the recent sunny weather, both by members of the public and the studio.  With some keen gardeners amongst the studio crop, we have cleared away the weeds and begun to plant up the strip (so far this includes tomatoes, runner beans and strawberries) with varying degrees of success.  One of the main problems is that low-level plants are getting trampled by passers-by, as our slim 1m wide strip of earth lies at the same level as the pavement surface.  The overall result so far is a vast improvement on how things were before, but our ambitions for the garden are growing!
1:100 model showing overall planting scheme
The team decided on an overall design strategy which would embrace and celebrate the repetition and rigour of the existing industrial façade and encourage the garden to expand vertically as well as horizontally.
On the horizontal, the first step would involve raising the whole strip of garden by one railway sleeper, in order to discourage the destruction of low level plants by passing bikes.  Large triangular planters would then be constructed directly beneath the windows.  By raising plants to just beneath windowsill level, a visual connection would be created with the garden from inside the building.  The oblique angle on the cheeks of the triangular planters could also provide an ideal place for some playful signage, putting the practice’s name where passing towpath traffic can read it.  Reclaimed timber, railway sleepers and CNC milled plywood were discussed as possible material choices.
1:50 model showing triangular planters
John built a 1:1 mock up of one of the planters
For the vertical element of the design, studio architect-engineer John Romer came up with a cable system which would attach to the structural steel plates on the building façade, acting as a trellis for creepers to grow further up the face of the building.  The system would incorporate hanging space for temporary banners to advertise special events going on in the office.  Potentially, a few bird boxes and bee hotels could also be hung at high level to encourage local wildlife.

Concept model of the connection detail for the trellis cables

The principal idea on the greenery front was to create a productive and sensory garden.  The south-facing canal elevation can get very hot and dry during the summer months, so plants such as grapes, lavender and figs were proposed as they like these conditions.  Also included in the planting scheme were tea plants (so that we can grow our own for studio tea time), fresh herbs (to season Friday lunches with), a fig tree (fresh figs for lunch!) and scented plants such as Jasmine to share the sweet perfume of guerrilla gardening with passing cyclists, dogs and canal dwellers.

Enjoying some lemon verbena tea which we propose to grow in the garden


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  2. Can we have an update on how it's looking please?