HTA Landscape: In 2006, HTA were appointed by Stevenage Borough Council to create a new vision for the Town Centre Gardens. At over forty years old, the 3.85 hectare park had fallen into decline and was generally perceived as neglected and unsafe. The project successfully combined the restoration of the structure, character and heritage features within the Gardens with new contemporary interventions to give it a renewed relevance for the future.
The Gardens are the primary open space within Stevenage and are an important example of modernist twentieth century design. They embody the hope, aspirations and philosophy of the post war era – access for city dwellers to fresh air, open space and cultural facilities set within a parkland. HTA’s approach combined site analysis with community engagement and rigorous historical research to inform our understanding of its original development, current use and future requirements. Through our research, we identified those aspects of the design that required retention and restoration as well as undeveloped areas of the site where new contemporary interventions would provide continued interest, increased use and ongoing relevance into the future.
The Town Centre Gardens are the first New Town park refurbishment to be funded by the Heritage Lottery. HTA played a pivotal role in the project; acting as lead consultants, project managers, landscape designers, architects and contract administrators. We procured and led the design team and were instrumental in the community engagement and formation of the Friends Group.
The design achieves its masterplan objectives by directing movement, enhancing connectivity, increasing use and enabling event programming to revitalise and successfully adapt the existing space. The park’s open spaces and structure have been restored, new sensory gardens created, the play area renewed and enlarged, and new toilet facilities sensitively integrated into the landscape to attract more people to the park and encourage them to stay for longer periods. The project has transformed the run down and poorly functioning park into a well used and active place that has become a destination for both local communities and visitors from further afield. The increased activity draws people to the Gardens and to Stevenage Town Centre, acting as a catalyst for change and regeneration for Stevenage itself.
The design evokes the New Town Era and the modernist philosophy underlying its design whilst being clearly contemporary and avoiding pastiche. It celebrates 1950s materials as a reference to when it was first created – for example, the large-scale bespoke concrete planters in the new sensory gardens. We also designed a patterned relief to the toilet block elevation that is a visual connection to the cast concrete relief on the nearby underpass created by the well know contemporary artist William Mitchell in 1973. Furniture was also carefully selected and located to compliment the aesthetic of the park, including bespoke signage that uses the Festival of Britain font to evoke the 1950s era.
The centrepiece of the refurbished gardens is a pre-stressed granite bridge, spanning almost 14m, with a deck thickness of only 28cm and a weight of 22 tonnes. Designed by HTA and engineered in Germany by Kusser Aicha Granitwerke, it is the first bridge of its kind to be installed in the United Kingdom. In addition, the “Women and Doves” fountain, a key feature within the lakes of the existing gardens, has been carefully restored in consultation with the original artist and foundry where the fountain was cast.
1500 roses were planted in addition to new herbaceous planting to reintroduce colour and scent in the park. Over 100 trees were removed in the northern and eastern sections of the park to reinstate open spaces and reveal the historic tree massing – groups of Norway maples combined with the farmland trees that predated the park. Understorey shrubs were also removed, suckering vegetation cleared and trees crown lifted to reinstate views and improve perceptions of safety. The work revealed the lines and bend in the pond as originally intended.
The project meets high sustainable standards with materials procured responsibility or reused on site where possible during construction. Large areas of wildflower meadow and bulbs were created, marginals’ planted and native hedgerows restored. We also worked closely with the park staff to adapt their maintenance regimes so that the parkland is now managed as a biodiverse landscape.
Client: Stevenage Borough Council
Location: Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK
Project size: 4 hectares
Contract Value: £2.5M (£150k under budget)
Programme: Appointed 2006
Phase 1: complete 2008 on Programme
Phase 2: complete July 2011 on programme
Funding: Heritage Lottery Fund Parks for People
Lead consultant: HTA
Landscape architect: HTA Landscape
Architects: HTA Architects
Environment: SLR consulting
Heritage: Marylla Hunt
QS: Davis Langdon
Signage design: HTA Graphics and Communications
Awards: Winner Heritage and Conservation, Landscape Institute Awards, 2011; Green Flag Award, 2011; Commended for Communication, Landscape Institute Awards, 20071 Comment