Another Green World: award-winning urban oasis nestled in Old Street development

Within the built environment, our focus is increasingly shifting towards both sustainable developments and staff wellbeing, and rightly so. Integrating green spaces is one of the most effective ways of successfully doing this. The exterior spaces at Stylus, 116 Old Street are a great example of how this can be done successfully and imaginatively within urban developments.

With the initial concept produced by John Davies Landscape, it was then developed collaboratively with architects gpad london, creating award-winning landscaping for the media-style workspace, and demonstrates how a small space, if carefully designed and utilised to it’s fullest, can have a large impact.

The garden design followed the same rationale as the office redevelopment. Testament to its success, it won The Grand Award, the most prestigious accolade, and the Best Public or Commercial Outdoor Space at the 2020 Society of Garden Designers Awards. It was also among the winners in the Roof Gardens and Living Walls category at the BALI National Landscape Awards.

The design of Stylus was founded on bridging the old and the new. This was crucial as a redevelopment of a building dating to the Victorian era, which also had to relate to its contemporary surroundings. The front façade of the former Margolin gramophone factory was the only original feature retained, however it was a key guiding inspiration for the rest of the building. Linking the Victorian era with the state-of-the-art office space and the surrounding Silicon Roundabout media and tech hub, the design evokes the anachronisms of steampunk.

gpad london and John Davies Landscape worked closely together to make sure the landscaping would reflect the ethos of the new development. Greenery was maximised by including terraced areas on both the third and fourth floor roofs, as well as a narrow basement courtyard sandwiched between the building and an adjacent ground floor car park. Introducing biodiversity into the heavily built-up cityscape of the surrounding area was also a significant consideration.

The fourth floor terrace is an intensive roof garden with a scheme of insect-friendly flowering perennials, ornamental grasses and broad-leaved cockspur thorn (Crataegus prunifolia). The south-side of the terrace features a brick party wall with skyline chimneys, dropping down to the third floor. This has been transformed into a hydroponic green wall system with flowering perennials and shrubs such as fuchsia and buddleia, mounted on bespoke steels fixed to the framework of the building. To provide consistency, some of these plants are repeated at ground level helping to unify the scheme as a whole.

A bespoke system of floating triangulated planters, with sloping walls, was created to complement the contemporary ethos of the workspace. Corten steel was chosen as a primary material, echoing the industrial past of the building and informing the relationship between old and new.

The fronts of the planters vary in height, establishing a gentle rake forward from the back to give the effect of ‘presenting’ the foliage to inhabitants. Plants have been inserted into letter-box style apertures within the outer facing walls of the planters to make the terrace appear greener when viewed from road level.

Wooden benching is integrated into the front of the planters to create a secluded, reflective break-out space for workers.

The basement courtyard presented a significant challenge, as it had to function as a fire escape route and an office break-out space. Landscape designer John Davies comments: “Because of the tiny footprint, we had to plant vertically and decided to introduce a second hydroponic system, however this time into a much shadier environment. We introduced stone seats to encourage workers to linger, yet they could not obstruct the escape route in this narrow space.”

He continues: “The original vision included two basalt water walls bisecting the green wall, flowing into a rill running underneath floating stone seats. Unfortunately we were forced to abandon this, however we successfully retained the design intent by introducing a walk-on opaque glass floor, evoking a ‘stream of light’ instead of the rill. For me this is a perfect example of how collaboration can deliver superior quality than what a single party could have achieved alone”, he adds.

Lead architect, Associate Graeme Winestone at gpad london, says: “We wanted to make sure that the fourth floor roof garden was as visible from street level as possible. We even suggested the letterbox holes in the outer sides of the planters, which John sized and detailed, an experiment which turned out to work brilliantly.”

The judges at the SGD Awards described the project as hugely creative and “brilliantly executed, demonstrating environmental responsibilities that we should all be embracing”, as well as remarking on the ”interesting and unusual mix of plants and textures that offer structure and all-round interest”, with a balance of scale.

Location: 112-116 Old Street
Type of project: Extension & Refurbishment
Client: Coastview Estates Ltd
Architect: gpad london ltd
Property Agent Colliers International & JLL
Project Manager: RFM
Planning consultant: Planning Sense
Structural engineer:     GDC Partnership
Quantity surveyor: RFM
Main contractor: Construction Management
Start on site date: February 2017
Completion date: November 2018
Contract duration: 18 months
Gross internal floor area: 37,000 sq. ft.