Saturday, 1 August 2015

Planting Platforms

The Crossrail construction across London and the closure of Thameslink to Barbican left one platform at the station looking a bit forlorn. Marked by a couple of old terracotta pots, home to some tired and neglected plants, the platform stood forgotten until the eagle eyes of the Friends of City Gardens noticed it and took on the challenge to transform it and cheer up this corner of London.

They needed more than just gardening skills to complete their mission.  Starting in November 2013, they spent eighteen months gathering supporters and sponsors for their vision - with the help of Transport for London.  Along the way they met Gensler, an organisation specialising in global urban landscapes and design thinking, and the design of the new garden began to take shape.  Mischka Ickstadt from Gensler designed the 100 metre long platform garden and Marion Blair, a volunteer, designed the planting.

They had two major obstacles to overcome to achieve their vision.  Firstly the abandoned platform was performing an unbeknown function in the construction of the huge underground tunnel for Crossrail.  On the side wall, lasers had been mounted, whose job was to monitor any movement caused by the tunnel boring machine to the surrounding infrastructure. The two boring machines were also due to meet up at the Barbican, where the abandoned platform will eventually be reconstructed to run from Barbican to Farringdon.  The sight line from these lasers could not be obstructed, so the first design, which involved larger planters, had to be modified.

The second obstacle was that there was no elevator or lift to the platform, so all the construction materials and plants had to be carried down the flights of stairs.  Four Friends of City Gardens, helped by six staff from Kelly ITS, carried 35 concrete planters down these stairs, along with 7,500 litres of soil - the total weight of which has been likened to that of a small elephant.  The large trees were brought in during the night - in fact much of the work was done under cover of darkness when the station was closed. 

And the result is a triumph of design. Based on the concept of movement and speed, the upright red spacers echo the red wiring along the platform and the familiar London tube sign

This red wave design is good seen up close and also from passing trains.  For the best effect, catch an underground train from Moorgate to Farringdon on the Metropolitan Line.  Sit on the left facing forward and watch the garden move as you depart Barbican station and the train picks up speed. 

The Friends, Transport for London, Gensler and Crossrail were all grateful for the help given by Hamptons International, Redrow London, Kingston Smith, Skanska, Kelly ITS, the Barbican Centre, and the City of London Corporation.  The garden was opened by Transport for London on 12th June and then for the Open Garden Squares Weekend in June 2015, when the pre-booked tours were all fully subscribed. Even so, over 100 other eager people turned up on the off-chance of a spare place, such was the interest the pop-up platform garden had generated. 

There are vegetables and herbs as well as flowers and shrubs in the planters - harvesting of the lettuce, kale, broad beans and herbs has already begun. Volunteers from London Underground staff and the Friends water and tend the plants and we all wonder what its future will be after 2016, when building work will start on the platform.

The Friends of City Gardens hope their efforts will bring the odd smile to passing commuters. Unfortunately access to the platform itself is not allowed; but, if you've seen the platform garden and are around Barbican station, you could take the time to pop into the Barbican to see the new plantings there by Nigel Dunnett (of London Olympic Park plantings fame).  There's lots happening on the garden front at the Barbican nowadays. Here's a glimpse of them.