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Exterior Architecture: Designing a garden for the city

The planting design lay at the heart of the concept for Kampus. The desire to create a secret garden, a hidden oasis within Manchester, hinged on the success of the soft landscape – and we hear more about the garden’s design from creators, Exterior Architecture.

When designing Kampus, we took a holistic approach to the planting, looking at how certain plants could be used to create drama and aid legibility. The creation of portals at key thresholds was central, and we were keen to explore how planting could be used to draw people through the spaces, provide glimpses of what lay beyond and set up key views.

The eccentricity of the existing and proposed buildings set a platform for the planting design and we workshopped hard to understand the relationship between space, built form and programming. Kampus is blessed with an interconnected network of courtyards and linear spaces, each with its own microclimate and ambience. From the canal-side secret garden to sun-kissed Chorlton Square, we saw the opportunity to announce the scheme at the four entry points around Kampus.

Chorlton Square we saw as bright and vibrant. We wanted to create a feeling of wandering through historic Manchester and getting washed up on a tropical beach. Manchester City Council have a programme of testing supposedly tender palms in city centre locations and have achieved great success, so we drew on their work by adding Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island Date Palm) to set the scene for this space. Beneath these, Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree), a native of southern Europe and the tip of Ireland, bring a fresh and breezy appearance.

Across the development we saw climbing plants as a way to marry the built form with the landscape, and in Chorlton Square, climbers adorn the facades of the listed buildings and the statement columns of the new builds.

Along Little David Street climbers also play an important role in forming the connection between building and landscape. Little David Street presents itself as a typical industrial Manchester backstreet, so we wanted to honour its history by adding a further layer – the urban future of nature reclaiming the city. The setts laid along Little David Street are pulled back along the building edges, giving a frayed appearance and allowing space for planting to be introduced. A palette rich in ferns is reminiscent of those plants which first colonise built up areas.

Ferns can be found in abundance along the steps running along the canal between Aytoun Street and the secret garden. Here the feathered fronds of Dryopteris and Matteucia rub against low-growing shrubs whilst majestic tree ferns stand above – flamboyant totems set between the concrete architectural columns. We wanted to capture the rhythm of walking down the steps and echo it in the form and structure of the planting.

The stand of three existing beech trees on the corner of Minshull Street and Aytoun Street were for us the most exciting part Kampus when we first saw it. Due to the tendency for shallow rooting, beech trees are not commonly found in urban environments, but these specimens were thriving, their elephantine forms and dense canopy creating an otherworldly space beneath. It was paramount that we showed these beautiful trees the respect they deserved, and care was taken throughout the build, particularly when laying paving around them. To complement the beeches we added a mix of shade tolerant ferns and evergreen perennials and supplemented this with a mix of colonisers scrambling across the stone gabion walls.

All four of the spaces lead into the central courtyard, a new public space for Manchester and a new kind of public space within Manchester. The central space is conceived as a garden within the city that captures the imagination, with interest and intrigue wherever you look. The space meanders through the planting, the eye is drawn to the layers of vegetation, creating magic and mystique.

The trees that fill the garden act as anchors, the ephemeral bark of the birches are guides, whilst the spreading canopies of the magnolias define the space beneath. The evergreen foliage of Ligustrum lucidum (Chinese tree privet) retains a tropical feel within the central garden throughout the year. A sub layer of tree ferns and tropical evergreen shrubs further enhance the atmosphere, whilst a richly scented ground layer creates a fully immersive sensory experience.



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