PUBLIC GARDEN FOR KINGSGATE, AMESBURY

Design outline for a new public garden and design and fabrication of solid Purbeck stone and composite Purbeck stone and cast mortar seating blocks.

Princess Way, Amesbury, Wiltshire. 2017-2024

Project Category: Long-Term

Amesbury is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in England. It is the nearest town to Stonehenge, and is surrounded by numerous Neolithic sites of international significance. It is also distinguished by extensive new development at Kingsgate, with over two thousand new homes built there within the last ten years. The project creates a new public garden at the heart of Kingsgate, incorporating ornamental planting with elements of wildness and the informal qualities of chalk grassland. The design uses chalk excavated from nearby building sites to create hollows and ridges supporting swathes of wildflowers through the spring and summer. Crushed limestone has been used for paths to ensure durability and ecological consistency. The garden’s layout focused on safety and practicality, with clear lines of sight and direct paths connecting residential areas, schools, and other public spaces. Circular arrangements of seating allow for rest and interaction amongst generous space for play. The design prioritized longevity, incorporating Purbeck limestone seating blocks. This stone was chosen for its durability and distinctive visual characteristics. Innovative cutting methods were employed to efficiently utilize stone offcuts and create visually striking stone and mortar cast seating blocks. The project aimed to blend ecological sustainability, aesthetic appeal, and practical functionality to create a lasting and inviting public garden space.

Project Credits

Client: Bloor Homes/Amesbury Town Council

Art Consultant: Ginkgo Projects

Stone and cast seating blocks: Haysom Purbeck Stone and Juliet Haysom

Seating blocks installation: Albion Stonemasons

Landscape Architect: Roundfield/Fru Studio

Landscape Contractor: Tony Benger Landscaping

 

With special thanks to Felix Sagar, Blanka Valcsicsak, Sheer Gritzerstein and Hiroaki Yamane for assistance with design development and digital visualisations, and to Mark Haysom, Justin Warren, Jon Blackman and Dylan Zeidler at Haysom Purbeck Stone

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Research & Development

Satellite view of Kingsgate under development, with extensive groundworks exposing the white chalk bedrock, 2017-8. The Kingsgate garden site is shown hatched in the centre.

The garden site was a patch of unloved land, previously used as a storage area by construction teams building the surrounding housing estates. It formed a wedge between the open expanse of the playing fields, an assisted living home and new and recently-built housing. My commission was one of several funded by a substantial housing development by Bloor Homes to the south of the garden site.

The project brief required the new garden to be “low maintenance and suitable for general care by the town council’s grounds team.” The Kingsgate development incorporates a substantial proportion of green public space including several play areas, sports pitches and a country park. Most of the new homes have small gardens of their own. Within this social and ecological context, What kinds of planting should the garden support? What characteristics should a new public garden include? What kinds of activities could- or should- the new public garden host? From what materials should it be made?

Footpath in chalk landscape, fieldwork in Dorset 2018

Hornbeam in flower next to a footpath in chalk landscape, fieldwork in Dorset 2018

I was keen to bring some wildness into the garden, and its design is intended to carry some of the same loose-edged, informal qualities characteristic of local chalk grassland, with naturalistic planting including mainly native species. This would be complemented by an area of ornamental planting at the garden’s centre, which creates a focal point. To complement the garden’s white chalk and off-white stone, predominantly white-flowering plants and trees have been chosen. This is intended to give the garden a coherent formal visual quality, and to produce a subtle differentiation from the polychromy of local gardens. In particular, the white apple, pear and cherry blossom will look beautiful each spring.

Photograph: Image credit: Fru Studio

Kingsgate Garden General Arrangement

It was essential that the garden felt safe and practical. There is a historic bridal way running adjacent to the site, and the garden is organised with clear axis paths connecting the new housing to the south-west with the school, shops and pub to the north-east, and between the playing field to the west and existing housing to the east. We anticipate the garden will be crossed regularly by people walking or cycling to work, to school, or taking their dog for a walk. But we were keen that the garden became a destination as much as a route, so have included places to pause, meet and relax within landscaping that provides children ample space for playful exploration. Topography and planting is low to ensure sight-lines are maintained throughout. The garden is step and kerb-free, and includes sturdy seating with back support and arm rests to make sure the garden is inviting and accessible for all.

The garden site used as a storage site for chalk and topsoil excavated from adjacent sites. Some of this material was later used to produce the garden’s landforms. 2018

1:20 model for the garden’s landforms, showing loose-edged path within meadow-planted ridges and trees. 2021

The subsurface design is based on the bedrock of chalk which is found directly below the topsoil of the site, and which extends across Amesbury’s wider landscape context. Chalk excavated from the adjacent building sites has been used to produce a low topography of ridges and hollows. Their shape allows for easy mowing of the hollows but only annual strimming of the ridges. It’s hoped that these ridges will support wildflower meadow species, creating beautiful ‘lanes’ of tall flowers and grasses from spring to the end of summer. Excavated chalk has also been used in the exposed ‘chalk scrapes’, which in time will support self-colonising native plant species that benefit from this unique and nutrient-poor habitat. For ecological reasons, no concrete or plastic materials have been used within the hard landscaping. Paths have been constructed from crushed limestone from Somerset which is self-binding, porous, and which provides a more hard-wearing surface than can be guaranteed with chalk. 

Collage (right) based on drawing from Bovis’ planning application 15/10691/REM, showing ‘Activity Zones’ (left). 2020

The planning application for the Bovis housing development to the south of the garden site shows not only the buildings’ structure, but also hypothetical interior layouts of assorted furniture including dining tables, sofas and tv consoles.These are all defined by straight lines, between which circular and elliptical shapes describe actions: a wheelchair turning space in the hall, a kitchen Workspace Zone in the kitchen, and a Living Space Activity Zone. In contrast with all the measurable elements described in the drawing, only these intangible zones are given dimensions.

Iso drawings based on living room layout within Bovis planning drawing

Which activities of contemporary domestic life can fit- or perhaps be lassoed- within a 2 x 2.5metre oval? What kinds of activities might this shape suggest or define outdoors? Amesbury’s many local neolithic sites are suggestive of how our distant ancestors used circular forms to frame and organise social activities- gathering, mourning, feasting, playing, celebrating. At the very least, a simple circular arrangement of seating remains a practical form to support a conversation.

Preliminary 1:5 model testing circular seating arrangement within loose-edged planting. 2021

Blocks of Spangle limestone within Haysom Purbeck Stone quarry yard, 2024

The project brief also requested that “The garden will be robust and built to last. Materials will be chosen for their longevity and natural ageing qualities. A less is more approach should be taken – selecting fewer robust, quality and beautiful materials over a wider range of less quality items.” As nearby neolithic monuments attest, natural stones have remarkable longevity. However, compared to alternatives they can also be relatively expensive to produce so tend to be priced out of public realm projects. I wanted to include Purbeck limestone elements as a natural and highly durable complement the chalk, and because of its distinctive fossil-rich characteristics. 

Photograph: Animation credit: Felix Sagar 2024

Cutting method, showing how three cast blocks can be produced from the offcuts of one solid stone block.

1:5 models, testing configurations of stone offcuts cast within a limestone dust mortar and then cut. 2024

Purbeck stone occurs naturally in relatively small pieces compared with other stones, meaning that the cutting process produces relatively high proportion of offcuts which are usually of little to no subsequent use. I therefore designed a shape and cutting method for the seating blocks that would make use of the method’s own offcuts.This meant that for every solid limestone seating block I was able to produce three cast limestone and mortar seating blocks. This was materially efficient, made our budget go further, and also gave the seating blocks striking and distinctive visual properties.

Cut Spangle blocks, with some of the offcuts. 2024

Offcuts were cast in batches which produced four seating blocks per batch. Each batch used a different set of offcuts: either front/back, top/bottom, or sides. Here, front/back offcuts are being prepared to be arranged into the formwork with their cut faces facing against the formwork.

A back/front offcut ready to be put into the reusable formwork. Whichever set of offcuts was being used, the stone was always cast ‘in bed’, ie with the bedding plane horizontal.

Removing the formwork from the cast block

Cutting the cast block into four seating blocks. Casting them in sets of four allowed the stone to overlap from one seating block to the next, and for minimal secondary offcuts

Tilting a seating block to cut an undercut on the inside edge. This block was cast from top/bottom offcuts which can be seen on its seating surface.

A collection of solid stone and stone/cast mortar seating blocks within the saw shed during polishing and finishing. April 2024

Seating blocks installed within the garden, May 2024

The construction of the garden was completed in May 2024, but unlike the neighbouring buildings it is not ‘finished’; it will take time for the grass to take root and for the young trees and plants to become established. I hope that the garden is a welcome addition to this new neighbourhood, and that its materials weather gracefully as the site matures in the years ahead.