Building with Gardens - 7 Architects in Practice

Working with the entire footprint of a site, designing external and internal spaces as active primary rooms - even if filled with trees - perhaps reflects a broader cultural shift in our perception of nature. Not as separate to ourselves or outside the sphere of our actions but part of the same system, if we are all natural, our buildings are part of nature.

Beginning a project, we try to consider all the material on the site; constructed, manufactured, outgrown, grown or overgrown, historical or anecdotal, from this we can set about building. Some of our sites haven’t had external spaces at the outset and others have tarmac and building edge to edge. Here we peel back, appropriate and uncover. Others have been set into abundant garden or big landscapes already and the architecture finds its equilibrium from the other end.

A House for a Collector is an old 2 storey warehouse, with a large flat roof the entire footprint of the site. A new stair from inside brought it to life, tall greenhouse like roof lanterns were cut into it. Birch trees and forest floor was planted at one end and planters and photovoltaics harvesting electricity and vegetables cover the rest. Our client has a hanging garden amongst artworks inside below the new lanterns. Light and shadow from the gardens around every opening dance across the interior all day.

In a garden full of trees, our client wanted to keep them all and make existing and new rooms and garden accessible by wheelchair – the compact timber framed, and reclaimed timber clad Tree House ramps down ½ a storey to the garden, curving round an old sumac tree, re-centering the ground floor around the garden. She could experience the colour show of the seasons and wildlife up close from each room.

A new birch forest fills the central courtyard of Cowan Court, a new timber framed and clad, halls of residence for Churchill College Cambridge. An open loggia at ground level and the glazed communal spaces above create walks around it. Students step out of their rooms looking into the forest at different levels, the canopy or trunk situating their floor precisely. Stepping into the privacy of their rooms the distant horizon is framed. The large drainpipes cascading water from the roofs during a downpour make a performance of the weather, the water stored for irrigation. The trees capture sunlight and throw shadows. They will eventually be taller than the building.

Sometimes, when there is no external space, peeling back, taking an existing roof off and digging up some ground slab to allow a formerly internal space to become external as in House on the Park, where trees flank the old fireplace and grow through the old rafters; a small patch of the park that surrounds it, recolonising the inside.

The densely urban, 60m long, built over site behind tall boundary walls, of Juergen Teller’s photography studio required more demolition. But one old brick boundary wall and residual concrete structure was kept when three new in-situ cast concrete and blockwork studio buildings were interspersed with three new gardens of similar footprint. One steps outside to go inside all along the site. The gardens become more overgrown and ruinous as they leave the street behind.

The garden is the building in its raw form. Sand, stone, mineral, timber are the alchemical materials of building, becoming softwood framing, 100 year old cladding, cast concrete, terrazzo floors, clay walls, tiles and basins and their ancestral evolution is part of the fascination of building with gardens.

Stephanie Macdonald - 6a Architects

Landscape designers:
House for a Collector, Juergen Teller’s studio: Dan Pearson Studio
House on the Park: Sarah Price
Cowan Court: Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects

Photography credits:
Johan Dehlin, Hisao Suzuki and 6a

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