The first phase of architect DSDHA’s ‘Time-Based’ improvements to the public realm of Broadgate, the office and retail development next to London’s Liverpool Street station that dates back the 1980s, has been unveiled.
Interventions have been made in three of the Broadgate district’s key public spaces – Broadgate Circle, Finsbury Avenue Square and Broadgate Plaza. DSDHA’s strategy has been to test alternative spatial arrangements by employing a series of prefabricated, lightweight landscape components that can be easily reconfigured over time. The open-ended, enigmatic timber structures, which function as planters and seating, are scaled between furniture and landscape infrastructure, offering niches for people to meet, work and relax. In Finsbury Avenue Square, DSDHA has also installed four temporary shop units within a deep ‘inhabited hoarding’, designed to enclose the construction site of the grade-II-listed No 1 Finsbury Avenue (designed by Peter Foggo at Arup Associates) and maintain activity in the public space during the building’s refurbishment. The project originated in 2015, following an invited landscape design competition, when British Land commissioned DSDHA to undertake a strategic review of Broadgate’s public spaces and to prepare a Public Realm Framework Plan.
DSDHA’s strategy evolved from observations on the ground, interviews, and analysis of pedestrian movement and views across the site, as well as studies intended to determine the characteristics and micro-climates of each space. This was complemented by research into the ways people use social media to record and share their experiences of space. The objectives for the reconfiguration of the public realm aimed to maximise connections with the city, to bring life to Broadgate beyond traditional office hours, and to bring nature and wellbeing to the fore.
Broadgate Circle is conceived as a romantic ‘ruin’ within a Mediterranean landscape, with sculptural pine and cork oak trees and fragrant herbs growing from scattered boulders, offering informal seating, perching and even climbing potential. The previous inward-looking character of this space had been reinforced by a ring of solitary benches at the circle’s edges, which meant that only large groups felt comfortable sitting or standing there. Despite an almost Mediterranean microclimate during the summer months, DSDHA’s research showed that the Circle’s patterns of occupation had been sporadic throughout the day and during the weekend, with huge crowds typically taking over the space for a few hours after work. Through the placement of large rock-like planters, introducing both greenery and shade, the design strategy was to make the Circle less intimidating and more intimate as a ‘grove’, and welcoming to a diverse audience throughout the day and week. At the same time, the main desire lines were maintained to avoid frustration to everyday users who pass through the space.
Finsbury Avenue Square is conceived as a ‘Nordic’ square. The existing mature trees and the surrounding modern architecture informed the horticultural and spatial concept of planting, timber ‘outcrops’ and lighting provided by a series of modular lighting units, that together are arranged as a stepped landscape in three clusters. These open-ended structures offer multiple seating, relaxing and exercising opportunities and can be reconfigured as required in the future. Four temporary kiosks within the ‘inhabitable hoarding’ are clad in slatted timber with planting to the roofs to complement the timber outcrops and planters.
Broadgate Plaza, formerly an underused space at the base of Broadgate Tower, has been reinvented as a ‘Bamboo Forest’, a calm green oasis as a counterpoint to the other busier spaces. Beneath the existing glazed roof, additional vegetation and lighting have been installed in the form of large, organic-shaped islands, planted with unusually tall bamboo. New structures provide a variety of seating, reclining and playing environments, and are equipped with USB charging points. Already the new landscape has turned Broadgate Plaza into a destination for spontaneous gathering and group exercise such as yoga and tai-chi, as well as proving a new route, away from busy Bishopsgate, towards Shoreditch and Old Street. DSDHA is currently working on the next phase, which will include a tea house at the entrance to the plaza.