How we did it ... Urban orchard provides sustainability harvest

Project: Design and build of Union Street Urban Orchard, a community garden in the heart of London.

Union Street Urban Orchard in London
Union Street Urban Orchard in London

Background: Lake Estates loaned a vacant plot at 100 Union Street for temporary installation in Bankside.

Who Is Behind It? The Architecture Foundation, Bankside Open Spaces Trust, ProjectARKs and Wayward Plant Registry supported by Arts Council England, Carillion, OpenVizor and Rummey Design.

Project aims: To build an event-based landscape that will provide an example of sustainable living and a legacy for the community.

Skills Involved: Landscape design, project management, teamwork, mobilising resources on a budget, gardening and outreach co-ordination.

A lush Eden has taken root amid the grey blocks of Bankside. The trees burst with ripe apples, the fruits of an initiative to regenerate a derelict plot of land and provide an exemplar of sustainable living in the city.

Architecture Foundation director Sarah Ichioka explains: "We hope to show how the urban environment can have a positive impact on our everyday lives. The regeneration of the space will advance the public discourse about sustainable public spaces and urban food production."

The Union Street Urban Orchard was built for this year's London Festival of Architecture in partnership with landscape designer Heather Ring of the Wayward Plant Registry, ProjectARKs and Bankside Open Spaces Trust (BOST).

A timber pod, a restored prototype of the zero carbon LivingARK unit, is home to volunteers deriving their electricity from renewable sources, such as solar panels on the roof. The pod acts as a gallery, a classroom and an information point for visitors.

Orchard contributor Drew Woodhouse explains that grass-roots activity promotes positive behaviour towards the environment: "We provide a working example of sustainable living through micro-regeneration. This offers the education required to grasp the value of green products."

A mini allotment, a greenhouse, a fishpond and vertically planted strawberries are dotted around the live-work unit. They are elements of a community garden on a disused area of land covering 100m2, on loan from Lake Estates. The centrepiece is an orchard of 85 fruit trees, including apple, pear, cherry and apricot.

BOST has contributed local knowledge and practical experience. It has supported the use of volunteers' skills as well as recycled and free materials from local businesses in constructing the garden as part of the Bankside Urban Forest strategy for the SE1 area set out by Witherford Watson Mann Architects.

Garden facilitator Peter Graal says: "BOST saw the project as greening a derelict site into something to be enjoyed. There is a material legacy in that all the trees and plants will be given away to local housing sites."

The vision for the orchard came from landscape designer Heather Ring. She secured the co-operation of Lake Estates in the temporary development of a vacant plot, so it was not subject to planning permission. Instead of engaging in consultation, volunteers were encouraged to become stewards of the land. "The project shows how an event-based landscape can be a catalyst for recreational projects and unite the local community," says Ring.

The landscape features an Identikit urban playground to encourage children to interact with the city and a ping-pong table built out of a skip. Nestworks by 51% Studios include blocks made from concrete with 55 per cent recycled wood pulp.

The scheme has been the catalyst for events on sustainable living and biodiversity. This weekend, designers will hold workshops offering ideas on creating useful objects from recycled materials, in the context of dismantling the orchard.

The project's success is due to the enthusiasm of its partners to engage in collective working. They have recognised the significance of cultivating the potential of localism when planning sustainable public spaces in the regeneration of urban areas.


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