Community Biophilia

The Crossrail Station and Roof Garden

The 118-kilometre Crossrail spanning from Shenfield in Essex to Heathrow and Reading is set to open this December. Three years before its completion, a unique roof garden at Canary Wharf station was unveiled in 2015. The garden, accessible from ground level via two connecting bridges, was designed by a team led by Foster and Partners, and is one of the distinguishing features of the yet-to-be-completed railway.

This unique garden is located in the North Dock of London’s Docklands, and the Landscape Institute report that the design is based on the concept of biophilia (“love of natural things”). It “unites” the residential neighbourhood of Poplar with Canary Wharf and provides visitors a space where they can breathe fresh air and freely interact with nature.

Community Biophilia - The Crossrail Station and Roof Garden

Gillespies, the garden’s main designer, needed to overcome a host of challenges in building the garden, and chief among them was the depth and weight of the soil. The overhead structure of the roof also presented difficulties, though Gillespies found a work-around for every one of them. The designers even drew inspiration from history, as the site was once used by 18th century explorers to “unload their exotic cargo plants.”

Gillespies’ lead designer Armel Mourgue emphasised that those who built the roof garden wanted to create something one of a kind. “This was always intended to be a different place,” said Mourgue. “We didn’t want to create another urban park but a unique garden.” Mourgue also described the structure as “a waterproofed tray lined with a reservoir and drainage mat.”

The actual roof, designed by Foster and Partners is a shell-like structure whose sides have openings to make natural irrigation and ventilation possible. Most of the panels, on the other hand, are equipped with ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) air cushions that permit natural light to pass through while serving as insulators at the same time. The result is a micro-climate highly favourable to both plants and humans.

The plant concept, meanwhile, was developed by the Growth Industry who replicated the environment ideal for peaceful relaxation. Growth Industry’s Katherine Akers Coyle pointed out that the physical nature of the site, which was narrow, cramped, enclosed, and dominated by water, inspired her team to use plants from similar natural environments. The result is a garden filled with magnolias, acers, and mature tree ferns, among others.

Perhaps coincidentally, rooftop gardens like the one in Canary Wharf are becoming popular again in London, and they have certainly been a breath of fresh air for the city.

The Telegraph claims that maximising space is a big reason why these types of gardens are thriving in London. Several big buildings, like the Rosewood Hotel, the Le Cordon Bleu cookery school, and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London all have notable roof gardens. SOAS is famous for its Japanese garden, and it shows how minimalistic garden designs from different cultures are perfect for the limited roof space.

This trend is popular amongst homeowners too, with garden centres now catering to the rise in oriental designs through providing Asian inspired structures. Screwfix list the many styles of pergolas available on the market, including an Orient structure. Because maximising space is the overriding theme in building roof gardens, installing a pergola has become quite popular, as the main requirement is upward free space. Homeowners are doing everything to make the most out of the space available to them. And that space seems to be shrinking by the week. So, rather than purchase a home with a traditional garden, they’re investing in properties with good roof space.

For the past three years, the unique garden in Canary Wharf has arguably been the most famous example of the roof garden trend that has seemingly taken over the UK. And it has also been a beacon of sustainable development, which was discussed here in an August 2016 post. And with space being a premium in this city, there is a good likelihood that more and more rooftops will be turned into gardens in the foreseeable future.


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