Gustafson Porter + Bowman

Gustafson Porter + Bowman

London, GB


Swiss Cottage Open Space

Swiss Cottage Open Space sits at the heart of an ensemble of buildings of local importance including the public library by Basil Spence, a new leisure centre, the Hampstead Theatre, a community centre, the Winchester Project, offices, affordable housing, luxury housing and a home for the elderly.  

This park eloquently weaves together the evolving cultural and recreational needs of this diverse neighbourhood and is one of four interlinked landscape projects by Gustafson Porter + Bowman on this site, including: the Swiss Cottage Library entrance, the Eton Avenue market, and the Leisure Centre landscape. Co-ordinating these related projects and new architectural elements, the park transforms a collection of loosely related functions into a coherent communal setting with an elevated sense of place.

At the park’s heart is a water feature intended for play as well as visual drama. Jets set at thirty-degree angles emit 15m-long streams of water arcing over the rectangular basin.  In addition, a thin sheet of water emerges from grilles set into the paving at the fountain head and courses down a rectangular, sloping granite plane embedded into softly stepped grass banks. The scheme also provides a shallow pool at the northern end of the feature which can be cleared by activating drainage valves, creating a dry paved surface.  In this mode, the garden can be used to host special events in collaboration with the Hampstead Theatre and Central School of Speech and Drama.

A borehole sunk deep into the chalk subsoil provides water for the basin - it is treated in an underground plant room and then pumped into a holding tank where it can be drawn off into the water feature holding tank or be used for irrigation and street cleaning. Water is constantly re-circulated with new top-up water from the borehole to compensate for evaporation.

The presence and absence of water suggests activity and tranquillity with equal ease. A strongly moulded land form, together with lush planting, provide a striking context for the water element. 

The plant palette features herbaceous perennials framed by clipped structural hedges. The perennials are collections of British native varieties mixed with hybrids and exotics embedded in British culture (such as the English rose). The plantings are based on collective memory - types that people recall from childhood, encouraging acceptance of this space as a new home.  

The central landform is planted with varieties of maple tree which display brilliant autumn colour and interesting bark textures. However, plantings go beyond the expected display of seasonal interest and play an important role in outlining spatial volume in concert with land, form and water. 

The colour palette of the shade garden along the 100 Avenue Road office block is restricted to blues, purples and whites and contains many evergreen species, with seasonal highlights in spring and autumn. Planting along the west facing sunny boundary wall, is predominantly pink and fragrant, with flowering ornamental cherry trees and roses brightening up the path throughout spring and summer as it passes the Winchester Projects. Camden as a borough is committed to noteworthy planting in their parks and has been supportive of the design’s intentions.

Throughout the site, the juxtaposition of ground levels offers opportunities for performance (athletic or aesthetic) and observation at varying scales. Two cross-axial pedestrian paths link the major venues that enclose the open space, dividing the site into unequal portions.  Lines and groves of trees reinforce the scheme’s organisation, framing circulation and major open areas. A sunken sports pitch clad in reclaimed Portland Stone salvaged from the old sports centre façade is located at the southern edge of the open space.

With an aspiration to create an open space that is functional, progressive, and poetic, the design looks to the future of Swiss Cottage.

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Status: Built
Location: London, GB
Firm Role: Landscape Architect
Additional Credits: Civil & Structural Engineer: Whitby + Bird
M&E Engineer: Gifford and Partners
Main Contractor: Durkan Pudelek
Water Feature Specialist: Invent Water Treatment
Cost Consultant: E C Harris