Cityscapes/ Architecture Foundation: Gibbon’s Rent by Sarah Eberle & Andrew Burns

The first permanent Cityscapes garden opened a couple of weeks after the Old Vic Tunnels project, and is a community garden designed by Andrew Burns and Sarah Eberle.

Conversations about a collaboration with the Architecture Foundation and ourselves had started last year, but initially focused on their roof terrace. In time, attention soon turned to a neglected, problematic alleyway behind the AF and London’s City Hall that was causing the local BID (Business Improvement District)  Team London Bridge, Southwark Council and neighbours much head scratching.

We put Sarah Eberle forward as the garden designer whilst the Architecture Foundation ran a competition open to young Australia based architects to select who would be involved in the project from their side. The project thus became a fascinating experiment about how designers stationed in opposite sides of the world could collaborate despite the obvious communication hurdles they would have to overcome, as well as the usual relationship dynamics. The winner was Andrew Burns, whose concept was a community garden where the public bought their own pots and plants. Substantial funding was put in by Team London Bridge and Southwark Council and the project was launched, with outstanding project managing at the AF led by Moira Lascelles ensuring that the budget and lead times were reigned in.

Horticulture Week readers will know how difficult a brief it is to create a a garden that aims to be as sustainable as possible whilst only using pots, but having such a cunning designer as Sarah on board meant that this has mostly been achieved. Her instinctive reaction was to use concrete sewer pipes for pots which ensured the garden became more economical but also that the planting areas were large enough to ensure the longevity of the plants.  Design wise these pipe’s industrial scale and language suited the site- the fire escapes, extractor fans and even the new Shard itself was enveloped seamlessly into the new environment. These concrete pots also lent a neutrality that ensures more attention will be placed on the diversity of the pots and plants brought to the site by the community over future years.

There’s a clear understanding amongst all the partners when designing a community garden that the hardest part is motivating and attracting continued participation, which in this case is driven by resident groups that have been set up. Gardening support is there twice a week from Putting Down Roots through homeless charity St Mungo’s, and Fiona Law from Master Gardeners is there to guide budding resident gardeners, particularly in growing their own edibles.

With Gibbon’s Rent chosen as the launch for this year’s London Festival of Architecture it’s attracted a lot attention and we hope it can become a leading example for other problematic or redundant urban spaces.