This 2007 project, was set in two inner courtyards of a 5 floor office building in Madrid. Two rectangular spaces of 20 x 11 m. (220 m2 each) to which the fully glazed offices overlook. These courtyards provide natural light to the workspaces but receive little sunlight or direct light. Ultimately these environments are deeply shaded and poorly ventilate. The available depth for planting being very shallow (50-60 cm approx.) didn’t help much either.

It had to be a garden with a very permanent and constant in time appearance, being so present in the heart of the building and therefore seen from all floors. The vision of it from the higher floors influenced the design and structure and so determined that the pattern should be recognizable from above. Several design alternatives were offered. Some based on more formal and geometric motifs but the one which was finally accepted had this organic and naturalistic look

Shady conditions that rarely occur in Madrid should not be a limiting factor but rather the opposite, like an unusual an advantageous opportunity . This was used as an opportunity to create a small microclimate, like a redoubt where relict species take refuge in our suffering steppe environment.

The species chosen are:
Buxus sempervirens (Boxwood)
Ferns
Ophiopogon japonicus
Farfugium japonicum
Betula alba (Silver Birch)

Both patios share common scheme, materials and species, but the disposition of these elements vary in a relative way. Box was used as base plant, giving visible and unifying structure to the environment. It’s trimmed 2 or 3 times a year to provide plant density apart from fluidity and a natural feeling to the hole, as to resemble the form of bushes in nature. This effect was accentuated by being planted mostly on elevations that give more movement to the set along with a greater soil depth. This extra depth is something needed to accommodate the root balls of trees and for healthy development of long-term boxwood. Every year that passes its volume will increase and so the definition of forms, emphasizing its capabilities and strengths. This look vertebrates the space but also ensures that its outline is well defined in the shade because under these conditions, shapes and silhouettes tend to blur. The rest of the plants, especially the delicate ferns and the large rounded waxed leaves of Farfugium need to be set against the clear lines of box to highlight its most free and natural forms. As a complementing species, Ophiopogon was planted in drifts that follow along with the other species on the margin of the dry creek that runs through both spaces diagonally. The creek is implied by the use of rocks, stones and gravel, and is emphasized by planting species like Farfugium and ferns, normally associated with high moisture in the wild.

The stone used is the quarry of Urda (Toledo) and has a dark gray color that appears almost black when wet, further highlighting the green of the plants. As vertical element , Japanese maples where the first option for they could endure intense shade, but on technical grounds and looking for something with more development, birches where the final choice. In its favor they had the white bark that stands out as sculptural silhouette in the dark.

There are five species used in this garden, but it will be the box and silver birches who will last in time taking possession of place, gradually transforming it into a more sober and serene ambient where to look away in search of a moment of calm in the work routine. The atmosphere in these courtyards evokes nature from elsewhere, perhaps even from another era, one where the ferns and plants with whimsical shapes abounded, where flowers were scarce and the atmosphere was cool, fresh and mysterious.

Landscape Architecture: Urquijo-Kastner Estudio de Paisajismo (Miguel Urquijo and Renate Kastner)
Construction: 2007
Area: 440 M2 (220m2 per atrium)
Budget: 45.000 €
Location: Madrid, Spain
Text: Miguel Urquijo

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