A challenging timeframe made the new Sky campus grounds an interesting prospect
A five-hectare site is challenging enough without the job having to be completed in 18 months, but this was the situation faced by Alexandra Steed of URBAN in April 2015. She was called in by Sky UK after they experienced irreconcilable differences with the firm originally appointed to design the grounds of its new west London campus.
“It could have been a nightmare,” says Steed. “Instead, it has been a tremendously satisfying project because the whole Sky team were so invested in it. It helped that the CEO had a strong personal passion for this project, and the positive impact a well-landscaped environment could have on his 3,500-strong workforce.”
This was a new site with some significant built-in disadvantages, bounded by the M4 motorway, railway tracks and a somewhat odiferous landfill site. “When we came on board, only one phase of building work had been completed. Sky had a whole team overseeing the development, so we worked closely with them, as well as PLP (the main architects) and a large number of other specialist practices.”
On the downside, the rapid pace of the project meant that elements occasionally had to be redesigned as they went along. For example, underground utilities were sited where the design had originally specified that trees be planted. “Constant co-ordination across disciplines was a significant part of the job, but as a consequence this allowed us a satisfying degree of involvement in the process.”
From the outset, the intention was to create a contemporary interpretation of a stately home garden, and the key elements are all recognisable – including an ornamental perennial garden, meadow, woodland, wetland, playing fields and sweeping lawns with a single specimen oak.
“The client was prepared to invest in mature trees across the board. Given the imposing size of the buildings and the lack of natural features on site, these trees were key to introducing an immediate sense of scale. In total, we put in 264 large specimens, including Gleditsia triacanthos, Acer rubrum, conifers and a magnificent 50-year-old oak tree which we were fortunate to find growing at Hilliers.”
There was an emphasis on ecological sensitivity running throughout the project. To the rear of the site is an extremely large attenuation bowl, installed to manage the great volume of storm water that is collected off the roofs and used in the buildings as grey water.
“We designed in an 80% permeability within the landscape, planted 120m of native hedgerow (a traditional mix including Rosa arvensis, Acer campestre and Fagus sylvatica), and laid 2,500 sq m of wildflower meadow from Pictorial Meadows. We and the client have been extremely pleased with how easy these were to lay and how well they have established. Even in their first season they produced an impressive display.”