There was a point, back in the spring, when I really didn’t think it was possible. I was at the stage in my MA major design project where I could no longer avoid getting into the detail. 1:50 scale plan drawings were required, along with associated details. The sheer complexity of it all felt, to be frank, almost overwhelming. One dreary Tuesday, though, I was fretting through Victoria in central London, and came upon Cardinal Place. On the street the development is unavoidable and overbearing, replete with clumsy glass facade sweeping upwards from ground level. From within, though, the facade offers itself as a glass roof over a pedestrian avenue and unexpected respite from the noise and bustle of Victoria Street. Even more unexpected, at the top of the escalators at the far end of the avenue, is to be found a quiet and peaceful roof garden.
Designed by Capita, it nestles between four very large buildings whose varying offsets and angles bring a certain dynamism to what otherwise might be a rather claustrophobic corner. The garden itself is broadly oval and contains a marked change in level from one side to the other, expressed in deep turfed steps. Yes, there is an undeniably something corporate about the exercise but this is appropriate to context. An arena feel pervades the space and indeed its hosts various live events throughout the summer.
The day of my visit, however, offered only a persistent drizzle; I had the garden to myself. What struck me most was the design’s simplicity. The hard palette was limited to granite in only two shades (dark and mid grey in the rain); the soft comprised green only: hornbeam hedging, pleached limes, a row of fastigiate oaks, a little box, lawn and a little ground cover.
Detailing carried the simple theme through: brushed steel circular litter bins and tubular hand rails echoed by the round-nosed terrace steps and seating, with curvilinearity further reinforced in the paving layout and the sweep of the limes.
Simple, but effective. In a crowded urban space such as this perhaps simplicity is demanded over complexity, and it gave me hope for the task ahead.