A landscape of ambiguity


Here is an approach to creating a space. This is just the first post…so watch the design develop in this blog space… I am not able to visit the site, so I may be using considerable creative license! (Anyone who knows the site is welcome to assist me.)


The initial idea was to acknowledge the bleak surroundings [See Tom’s post ‘Barking Town Square’s Elder Brother‘] and compliment them with fine elements: crystallized glass and an enclosing wall of screens. The colour accent is an iridescent blue. This is to illuminate the night sky and to connect with colours in the deepest ocean. Warmer tones of apricot and honey-wood are used to balance the cool colours. At present they will be used to theme the day time appearance of the space with naturals and neutrals. Planting is used to soften the space and to define different sections, giving privacy and a sense of ambiguity as to whether the space is inside or out. The furniture is comfortable and modern. The sound mood is set by the music of the string quartet – a leisurely evening pace for sipping wine and conversation.


The space is a moonlight garden or Moon Garden. All planting is white. At present the screens may be 1) actual visual screens in which case they can display any scenery or create any mood OR they may be 2) a projective surface OR 3) merely a textured surface. Conceptual elements further define the space.

1. A water curtain on the side of the building suggests a water fall over a cliff face – and can be used for visual screenings.

2. Vertical signage on a building identifies the space.

3. Vertical planting also provides perimeter lighting. [This element is inspired by the Great Beech Hedge at Miekleour – height – and Stefan’s blog.] The aesthetic is not literal… I am aiming for ‘ultra contemporary’…so we have a way to go! [I was thinking Stefan might help here.]

4. A central water feature, with a black base [see Ethel Anderson’s article on Moon Gardens], has an active inner pool and and a passive outer pool with planting. The outer pool is a flat rim; and the inner pool has with a wide but shallow V-sloped basin in solid stone.

5. There is perimeter bench seating – possibly white.


Outdoor spaces have a long existence – which is a preferred as a sustainability strategy. The design is conceived as a semi-public semi-park. It functions at night as a wine bar and during the lunch hour as a formal cafe space. The park elements need to be considered as permanent. While the cafe elements are temporary.

There can for example be:

1. Exterior paving AND a removable wooden platform with rubber inlay for wine bars etc.

2. Permanent public lighting and seating for a Moon Garden.

3. Removable task specific lighting for the wine bar and seating islands.

4. Removable commercial seating islands for wine bar patrons.

5. Permanent planting for the Moon Garden.

6. Removable planting for lunch venues/wine bars.

The space should be ambiguous: is it landscape or architecture; is it interior or exterior? Is it for day or night? Is it a park to be in or a space to eat in?

15 thoughts on “A landscape of ambiguity

  1. Tom Turner

    I love the idea of having a Moonlight Garden in London. Fears about Global Warming stop me from suggesting butane- powered outdoor heating but those office buildings are sure to be chucking out waste heat and it could be used to heat the comfortable outdoor seats you are suggesting.
    The place the design reminds me of is the seating area in the pool at The Barbican. Though not shown on the Gardenvisit webpage ( http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/barbican ), there are seats set into the water. Unfortunately they are cold, dark, uncomfortable and closed to the public. Nor is wine available!

  2. stefan

    ok i’m hooked. can you give me the location of the site? – theres a lot of ideas and i’d like to start figuring out how much we can work in.

    i like your first comment about acknowledging the bleak surroundings. i always wanted to design a melancholy public space (not that i’m suggesting that here!). hard to sell your average council on those sort of ideas though. combining that with the ‘ultra contemporary’ look (which tends towards confidence and optimism) could be the trick here..

  3. stefan

    immediate thoughts – if this is going to be a semi public space there are possible issues of vandalism and ‘unplanned use’, especially if we’re going for a contemporary shiny (expensive?) look. i suggest that elements and materials need to be contemporary and robust.

    also, how will the patrons (and owners) of the wine bar feel about people walking off the street to join them, lark about etc. i’d consider some sort of transition between formal and informal spaces

  4. stefan

    immediate thoughts – about possible issues with it being a semi public space, such as vandalism and ‘unplanned use’, especially if we’re going for a contemporary, shiny (expaensive?) look. i suggest that elements and materials be contemporary and robust.

    also, how will the patrons (and owners) of the wine bar feel about people walking in off the street to join them, lark about etc. i’d consider some sort of transition between formal and informal spaces.

  5. Christine


    Tom starts the blog with “This photo (taken near Waterloo East Station in South London) helps make the point that the ‘urban design theory’ underpinning the misguided design of Barking Town Square dates from the 1960s…” So thats about as much as I know of the location.

    Is this the cafe you were thinking of Tom? [http://londonist.com/2007/06/whats_for_lunch_8.php]You are right. The essential first step will to be to understand the 24 hour year long micro-climate of the site. [And trends in climate change for that area of London!]

    ELEMENT FOUR (fountain)

    This is not the fountain design I am thinking of exactly…
    [http://www.wo-ge.at/wasser_licht/wasser_licht_e_1.html] However I am thinking of it as a contemporary piece made from a slab of black granite. But smooth and pool like and integrated into the paving somehow…or positioned with the wine pavilion maybe (see comment below.) The fountain would operate during the day and be a reflective surface at night.Perhaps the fountain would be hollowed out of the slab of granite?

    I have thought about the heating element…but I want to start with the idea of a garden first. Do you know of any outdoor heated gardens? Perhaps something those innovative ancient Romans did? Perhaps the wine bar could be integrated into the design of the fountain ie with the seating…..[So maybe there is a transition space between public and private as Stefan suggests.]

    ELEMENT SIX (street enclosure – not shown)

    I agree exactly Stefan about the curious mix of melancholy, confidence and optimism…as an aesthetic. Vandalism. Well all the best parks (and estates) seem to have fence and gates. So I think this one rather than having a building edge should have a transparent but robust park edge to the street if possible? {But maybe this will be one of the last design decisions?)

    Your second point about the people off the street…apart from when the gates are closed parks tend to be very democratic spaces. I think this one should be so also. Perhaps we should reverse the question. How will the people in the park feel about having people drinking wine and a wine bar in their midst? [http://www.vinoandnotes.com][http://www.windycitywinefestival.com]

    What do you think is the best strategy for the site?

    ELEMENT SEVEN (Wine bar – not shown)

    I have also been thinking about placing the wine bar in a structural glass cube or rectangle etc [http://www.gimav.it/glassinstyle/aprile08_n2/tecnology.pdf] so that the difference between inside and out is not one of walls! Part of the Wintergarden idea…

    Stefan you are right we definitely need to know more about the site first…! If you can go there can you take photos? The google map plan would be great or some measured dimensions!

  6. Tom Turner

    Re outdoor heating, London has many pubs with outdoor butane heaters but I do not know of any examples where it is done with sustainable technology. Yet solar water heating is much more cost-effective than photo voltaic (PV) cells. It would be easy to plan a system using re-cycled radiators, recycled double glazing units and a valve to deliver warm water when required. In fact I think I could make a system using the materials thrown away by houses within 50m of my house within the past month! Since the system would need some management, I think it would work better in the care of a Wine Bar than in a completely public space.

  7. Christine

    Tom you are more than welcome to design (and make) the sustainable heating system for the Wine Bar!

    Outdoor heating is not a technology I have given a lot of thought to recently! There seems to be quite a few applications for outdoor heating that I wasn’t aware of….
    [http://www.warmzone.com/SnowMelting/danfossgx_installation.php] [http://www.outdoor-heating-guide.com/blog/88_blog.php]

    I suspect some or all of these systems, like the gradual warming of London from Elizabethan times until the Thames stopped freezing over in winter, contribute to global warming, as well as human comfort and convenience.

    Does this suggestion mean there is not much support for the idea of an ‘ice bar’? (ie. designing the space so that it can be enjoyed in naturally cold/variable weather conditions? Perhaps by encouraging particular ways of occupying the space and dressing for the environment?)Or does this idea also remain on the drawingboard?

    The paper by Simos Yannis ‘Toward more sustainable cities'(published online by ScienceDirect Feb 2001)on microclimate might be of interest. Of particular note is the suggestion that mid-winter sunshine values in London are again reducing due to traffic pollution! Perhaps once Stefan has visited the site we could agree on the environmental aims of the design. For example one might be a nett reduction in the heat island effect for the site? [See the brief in the paper for the Athens site.] The paper is also published in Solar Energy Vol. 70, No. 3, pp. 281–294, 2001.

    Or we could make a wish list and then add and subtract from it as the concept progresses!!

    I have briefly considered that there will be property related issues in the design concept (ie access to the adjacent building for the water curtain installation and for use as a screen and signage surface.) I am not sure how far property and planning constraints should limit our conceptual thinking?

  8. Tom Turner

    I am unsure what you mean by an Ice Bar. Would it be a place to be warm in winter or cool in summer? Both are desirable but the name Ice Bar suggests a place to enjoy the cold – and I am not sufficiently ascetic for this!
    Re the property-related issues, I think it is often the case that ‘public’ open spaces should be accessible for public use but in the ownership and control of the adjoining land owners. So you could make this an assumption on which to build the design. If the land is in public ownership, there could be a long-lease-back arrangement with the building owners to let them develop the space as a climate-controlled outdoor wine bar. There is a plaza outside the British Library [ http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/british_library_piazza ]which was largely vacant when the building opened but which now has a cafe and is becoming better used all the time. I would like to see it used as a Book Crossing site [ http://www.bookcrossing.com/ ]with shelves to let readers dispose of and acquire books.

  9. stefan

    i’m too far away from london to make a site visit any time soon. the most likely candidate i’ve found for the site on google maps so far is just off meymott st. perhaps Tom can confirm?

    ps. if we’re using radiated water to heat the bar area, perhaps we could get steam emerging from the ground. that would look cool!

  10. Christine

    Images especially movie images are seductive.[http://www.ahd-imaging.com/projects/Greengate/index.php?image=Sequence_01&title=Sequence_01&content=main_text”>Greengate] It means, as designers the process of (phenomenological) rather than merely visual imagining is more important than ever!

    It would seem that icebars operate at minus five degrees. The original -[http://www.scantours.com/Absolut_Ice_Bar.htm] The concept gains traction -[http://randomnessmind.blogspot.com/2008/05/icebar.html] The concept is adapted -[http://www.london-eating.co.uk/venues/venue.asp?venue=61] (So you can experiment in London with your level of asceticism!)

    In this design I am not being conceptually strict about an ‘icebar’ rather the notion that it is possible to create other ‘experiences’ in what might otherwise be unusual comfort conditions. So if you use the ‘uncomfortable’ conditions naturally provided creatively???

    Building design often uses climate data to set indoor comfort conditions. According to John Martin in his paper ‘Evaluating comfort with varying temperature: a graphical tool’ [published in Energy and Buildings Volume 35, Issue 1, January 2003, Pages 87-93] for outdoor conditions the wind chill index and the index of thermal sensation use air temperature and wind speed to determine ambient temperature conditions. Colder climates are said (hmm this can definitely be qualified) to have less temperature variations throughout the day.

    However most interesting is the following assessment of human activity and climate;

    “The daily rhythm of activities will include the journey to work, exposed to the outdoor temperature and conditions in transport vehicles, the conditions in the office, factory or other work place and the return journey with different outdoor temperatures.

    Adjustments in clothing and activity levels are possible within certain limits, though a complete change of clothing to respond to different environmental conditions is unusual, except in extreme cases such as workers in refrigerated storage or blast furnaces, participants in sports activities, etc….”

    The book exchange is a great idea for the British Library site. I have always loved the idea of the bohemian part of Paris, I am not sure if it is Montparnasse [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montparnasse], where second hand books were sold. Or Montmartre [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montmartre]. It was not so much the seediness or sinfulness of the area which attracted, but the exchange of ideas. See Gibert Jeune:[http://www.discoverfrance.net/France/Paris/Shopping/Paris_bookstores.shtml]

    I agree Stefan the idea of steam emerging from the ground at a heated bar area is an evocative one! I think we keep all these ideas in the virtual sketch book until we have a clearer idea about site conditions etc.

    From the map you sent Tom the site looks substantial in area. Do you know if it has a current use (ie car parking?). As an architect I am itching for photographs of the buildings surrounding the site (ie internal court and street side). There are some of Blackfriars Road on this site.[http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=457359]

    There are patches of greenery surrounding the site. It would be great to have a clearer idea of what they are…if there are any opportunities for habitat connection or reinforcement?

    Also some idea of the surrounding uses of the area: ie. I noticed Blackfriars Road has nightclubs, resturants, cafes, office space….

    It would also seem Martha Schwartz has given some consideration to the area in her Green Hub proposal. She says of Blackfriars road;

    “Blackfriars Road is one of the major corridors leading into and out of central London. It is an important route for vehicular traffic and a clearly defined route for foot travel. It is a well-worn thorough fare resulting from hudnred of years of travel by countless people. Although it cannot be called a beautiful or great street as of yet, ithas presence and a place within the soul of London.

    The years of wear and changing circumstances have worn the street down to the point of having an air of neglect and sadness. Few people walk down this street in order to experience the ambience and savor its environment. The to the contrary, people dash across the busy street dodging traffic. People have to negotiate their crossing carefully, and those who wish to travel along its length tend to find alternative ways to travel so as to avoid its noise, speed and frantic energy.”

    The road leads down to Southbank and the Thames. [http://wiki.worldflicks.org/waterloo_east_station.html#coords=(51.50519652784749,%20-0.10433793067932129)&z=16] WHAT A FANTASTIC SITE!!

  11. Tom Turner

    There was much discussion of ‘design with microclimate’ when I was a student but, despite the concern for global warming, it has faded away. Chip Sullivan wrote a book on Garden and Climate: Old World Techniques for Landscape Design (2002) but it concentrates on historical analysis and I have not noticed that practitioners are nearly as interested in it as they should be.
    I will visit the Blackfriars site and take some photographs when I can. I guess is that it is a vacancy with development potential arising from the fact that so many ‘activity generators’ have sprung to life in the vicinity: Tate Britain, Borough Market, London Eye etc.
    BT have put wind turbines on Colombo House http://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/3233
    They could use the power to make the ‘square’ into a free WiFi zone, like Bryant Park http://www.bryantpark.org/amenities/wireless.php

  12. Christine

    WiFi – Great idea! Looks like BT would be open to some alt energy/low carbon symbiotic suggestions?

    Could you also look for ground or other upper level opportunities to connect Colombo House with the site when you are taking photographs. [ie I am interested in the openings (windows and doors) and ways in and out/and through the building.]


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