Hall McKnight was one of five practices shortlisted in The City of London Corporation architectural design competition to transform the City’s largest open space.
An enduring distinguishing characteristic of The Gardens at Finsbury Circus is its neoclassical elliptical plan as defined by George Dance the Younger in 1802. His ideas endured for 13 years before work began on realising its ambition in the landscape and architecture. The character of the Gardens has changed significantly over its lifespan from its origins as a private garden for residents to its establishment as an early example of a public garden.
A primary requirement in approaching the proposals was sensitivity to the listed status of the Gardens to preserve the character of the Conservation Area. We proposed an approach that explored a renewed distinct identity for the Gardens, drawing inspiration from the influence of its neo–classical origins. We commenced by analysing the geometry and characteristics of the ellipse. The description of the Conservation Area notes the popularity of informal public use of the lawns – we developed an abstract composition in plan presenting a large circular lawn in the centre of the garden. This abstract composition reflects the values of the neo–classical plan, whilst recognising that the predominating natural beauty and informality of the mature trees moderate the formal geometry.
Space is maximised for informal seating under the trees around the lawn, with more loosely defined routes than the present plan. Loose chairs and tables in conjunction with some fixed seating enhance the informal social use of the space. Definition of the serpentine paths, which date from the early nineteenth century, is enhanced by introducing new textures and a stone edge around the circular lawn with opportunity for sitting. Key characteristics such as seclusion, existing tree preservation, perimeter screening and new lighting in the landscape are carefully considered, alongside new planting to reflect the changing seasons, such as a geometric pattern of bulbs planted within the lawn.
A pavilion within a circular terrace is proposed in the north west quadrant of the lawn, maximising afternoon and evening sun on the terrace, and placed to allow controlled access to the pavilion from the north west after the park is closed to the public. The proposal utilises the benefits of passive design, allowing the pavilion to remain cool in the height of summer. The structure, consisting of 3 load–bearing inhabitable stone piers, supporting a timber roof structure, is located to enhance its visibility from all entrance approaches into the Gardens. We have shown the general character of the hard landscape in light/ neutral tones of compacted gravel and stone aligned with the built context of Portland Stone. The pavilion, with its stone ‘frieze’ and its terrace are realised in a deeper tone, perhaps in an alternative stone, presenting the pavilion as a special public venue and destination.