Gardenia - Letchworth Garden Quaters
Our design submission for RIBA’s international ideas competition Re-Imagining the Garden City. We were one of four practices selected to develop our ideas for the urban expansion of Letchworth Garden City.
The inspiration behind Gardenia is a connection with nature and Letchworth’s founding vision of a city of gardens.
Letchworth is growing and this new place is imagined as a branch, reaching into the countryside.
Like sap is the lifeblood of a branch, flowing back and forth, Gardenia’s branch is filled with people moving along it – going to work, going home, going to school or to the shops but ultimately engaging as a community; a living, vibrant, green movement spine.
And sprouting off this stem are the ‘leaves’ – quieter clusters of homes around garden spaces. Clusters are what Gardenia is all about; small communities of homes arranged around green spaces, not roads.
Just 5 or 6 homes around a green / blue garden. Completely pedestrian spaces, with cars parked at the entrance.
Provides heating for all homes and community buildings. Conveniently accessed from the main approach road for deliveries reducing traffic in residential areas.
A landmark visible from the city’s main Broadway but also a high level viewing point to look back onto the city.
The home of the sustainable travel club, housing hire bikes, tuk tuks, electric charging stations, car club bays, electric buggies and electric bus. Its solar roof contributes towards powering the various transport options.
A haven for wildlife and perfect for residents that enjoy looking onto green spaces but don't necessarily want a garden to look after.
Made up of a patchwork of spaces - a boulevard, pocket parks, allotments, swales, bbq and picnic areas, wetland areas, rain gardens, sensory gardens, herb gardens, ponds, orchards, nutteries, wildflower meadows, arboretums, fitness trails and children’s play areas.
The 6 pitches on the playing fields have been slightly repositioned to introduce a new boulevard link to the community heart, reconnecting to the original garden city axis.
This beautiful water feature is part of a sustainable drainage strategy and is 50% open water for swimming and 50% planted for wildlife.
Access across the existing shared surface path through to the southern access point will only be allowed for those cycling, walking, on electric bus or sharing from the Gardenia EV/AV fleet.
At the heart of these communities of houses are intimate, shared planted spaces like outdoor rooms. They will have greenhouses, planters, pergolas and seating areas.
Gardenia’s focal point is the community hub that sits on Letchworth’s primary axis, marked by the vertical garden – a landmark visible from the city.
Wrapping around this are activities that bring the community together – a school, community and business hub, city farm, retirement village, energy centre, transport interchange and garden centre. People of all ages live and learn alongside each other.
Gardenia aims to serve both body and mind, right from its heart all the way to the front door of every home. The linear garden is what connects each cluster of homes with the heart and the wider community, but it’s also a productive landscape that provides food, water attenuation, habitats and activity.
Gardenia's Community Hub
A thatched roof distinguishes this as a key communal building and links to the thached roof of the Garden City Institute building in town.
A robust structure with a flue also on the Garden City axis.
A truly interactive sculpture that communicates Gardenia's vital statistics in realtime through light displays, covering energy generation, energy use and water consumption. Its internal core provides access to a viewing deck at the top
The roof of the transport hub will collect energy to contribute towards charging its fleet of electric vehicles.
Many flat roofs throughout Gardenia are designed as planted roofs to further improve biodiversity and thermal efficiency.
Typical 'Urban Edge' Cluster
The shared gardens are filled with plants that are either good to eat or good for insects and birds.
These inset planted paving strips help reinforce that the road is part of the garden. Parking for houses to the north are between each home behind screens and for houses to the south at a secure, quiet parking area at the end of the cluster.
Digital display communicating the cluster’s energy generation and consumption, encouraging some healthy competition with neighbouring clusters!
A split level internal arrangement creates a higher ceiling height in the living space equals more sun and daylight and connection to outside.
These have been positioned within the shared garden, making growing a highly visible activity.
Residents are encouraged to utilise all communal and semi-private areas for growing their own food, with pergolas providing support for climbing plants and shading for the houses.
All roofs facing south are provided with integral PV panels to generate power for each home. Excess power generated can be provided to Gardenia's energy network
Maximise sunlight and north facing gardens.
These will give homes with north-facing gardens a sunny spot to sit, above their parking area.
With its outdoor living, cooking and dining spaces, this is a place where everyone can get together.
Each cluster will have a car club electric vehicle and ebike. This free-standing solar pavilion will also be home to a secure, shared garden tool locker and a table out front will be a location for surplus fruit and vegetables, and a donation point for no-longer wanted toys and clothes and a communal book swap point. It is also the communal recycling and compost point.
Homes need to be more flexible to meet today’s needs. Each Gardenia house will have a self-contained garden room that could be:
- for an elderly parent, who wants independence but to be near family
- for a grown-up child who is not yet able to afford a home of their own
- an extra bedroom for a growing family
- to support running a small business from home a b&b room or rented out to a longer-term lodger
- to provide extra storage space – for cycles, gardening tools and everyday stuff that clutters up the home
Each cluster will produce its own honey.
A coop for keeping poultry will provide fresh eggs for residents.
Each cluster will collect its own rainwater for the upkeep of the central gardens. It is sized to store winter rainwater for summer use. Being above ground will be a good visual reminder of water as a precious shared commodity. A gauge will show how full it is.
Protected area for growing raspberries, red currants, black currants and gooseberries.
Each cluster will have apple, pear and cherry trees.
Small holes in the bottom of fences allow hedgehogs to move between gardens
Typical 'Rural Edge' Cluster
The road around the central green area has inset diamonds of planting, making the whole space feel like a garden and helps rainwater soak into the ground.
These semi-detached houses have a barn-like character and have growing spaces integrated into their roofs.
Flexible opportunities for homes to grow according to need (expanding or aging family requirements).
A place to enjoy a cup of tea and have a chat with your neighbours.
The facade is made of integrated bird and bat boxes.
Feature trees to mark the entrance into each cluster
A place where residents can come together and grow.
Roofs designed to photosynthesise light into energy and collect rainwater in a central 'stem' gutter down into a large underground tank. This will be used to store winter rainwater for use in the summer.
These sunny bright spaces connect residents with their gardens and create opportunities for indoor growing.
The Productive Landscape
Houses facing onto the nature reserve have raised private decks out over the landscape to protect habitats
Bushes, shrubs, flowers and trees create a haven for wildlife.
Formal planting of fruit trees adds interest and enjoyment for all, from admiring the blossoms in spring to eating the fruit in autumn.
These homes enjoy views onto the green spine and are a mix of larger apartments and built-to-rent homes, and semi-detached houses.
The landscape provides opportunities for formal and informal activities, including play areas, tennis courts, a trim trail, communal BBQs, paths and cycleways.
Sculptural forms in the groundwork allows people to sit and enjoy the landscape (and hopefully some sunshine).
Large trees line the green spine to clearly delineate it from the roads.
Keeping up with the Gardenians
Three generations of one family tell us about life in Gardenia.
My name is Anna and I’m 10 years old.
I live in Gardenia with my Dad. When we first moved here, Grandpa Ray lived with us in our garden room, but I don’t really remember that because I was a baby then.
I go to school in Gardenia, it’s by the community hub – so quite close to where we live. Now that I’m 10, Dad lets me ride my bike to school on my own. I stick to the cycle paths and meet my best friend Aisha halfway by the allotments or the orchard. If it’s raining, we take the e-bus instead.
I really like school. We get to go to the city farm every week and learn about growing vegetables. My Grandpa Ray lives nearby in the retirement village and volunteers at the farm. Last week we helped him to plant strawberries – they’re my favourite.
We’re about to start a new project at school about birds. So we’re going to explore the linear garden and listen out for the first birds nesting in the ‘bird hotels’. I already know five different types of birdsong.
We’re also using a new app to record data about things like how much water we’ve used, how far we’ve cycled or how much food we’ve grown. The information is displayed at each of the community share stations and even at the main community hub! The most sustainable and productive person wins a really cool prize each month.
After school, I normally go straight to the playing fields or one of the parks with my friends. If it’s hot Dad takes me to the swimming pool. He says the pools are natural and there to help drain the land.
My favourite thing about Gardenia is the tower near my school. It’s really tall and has plants growing all the way up it. You can climb the stairs all the way to the top and see for miles.
There’s always lots of events and markets happening around there too. At the harvest festival last year Dad and I had a stall and we sold twelve jars of our homemade jam.
As a child of Gardenia, Anna has a healthy awareness of her impact on the environment and is able to enjoy being a part of the community that is connected to nature. Through innovation, technology, and ownership she is shaping the future of living successfully and happily in the 21st century garden city.
I’m Howard. I’ve been a resident of Gardenia for just over nine years now.
The decision to buy into Gardenia wasn’t straightforward. I’d read all the blurb beforehand about this ‘picture-perfect’ community being built, and it all sounded just a bit too ‘hippy’. But in the end, it was the carbon neutral homes and integrated resource monitoring systems that actually won me over. And so I made the decision to move over here with my daughter, Anna and my dad, Ray.
I am an engineer by profession and for the last four years had been commuting to London. However, late last year I was made redundant. I had been considering setting up my own business for a while and this ended up being the prompt I needed to just bite the bullet.
Earlier this year, the Stewardship Council accepted my application to rent an office in the work hub. As you can imagine, money is a bit tight of late, so to help boost my prospects, I joined one of the Stewardship Council’s working groups. Not only has this helped to raise my professional profile, but I can now offset the credits I earn from the time I spend in the working group against my office rent. Things are looking a lot rosier now.
At the moment the working group are deciding how best to distribute the surplus credits we achieve through our water conservation deal with Affinity Water. I know my dad’s hoping the council will go with his suggestion of having The Rolling Stones perform at the Summer Party. Although I think the council and community are more likely to go with Anna’s idea to improve the linear garden’s wifi coverage.
I feel genuinely proud that I was one of Gardenia’s earliest residents and that my family and I have made the transition from a resource-hungry lifestyle to a much more self-sufficient one.
Howard now realises that Gardenia, and modern-day garden cities in general, ultimately aims to support and encourage the lifestyles that people aspire to have. The fact that he regularly beats his neighbour in their conservation challenge has nothing whatsoever to do with this positive outlook…
I’m Ray and I’m a retired resident of Gardenia.
About nine years ago, my son Howard bought a home here. At the time, I’d just retired and was planning a move to Spain. However, things didn’t quite work out and Howard offered up his garden room to me.
I didn’t really know much about the whole garden city thing and at first I wasn’t sure I’d accept the offer. I was worried I’d be stuck out on the edge of the country with not much to do. However, I have to admit I was very wrong.
I lived with Howard and my granddaughter, Anna, for a couple of years and whilst the garden room was very comfortable, I made the decision to move to Gardenia’s retirement village. Howard was working from home a lot more and I thought he needed the office space.
In my day, retirement villages always meant winding down – but I can honestly say I’m now more active and involved in the community than ever before.
When I first moved in, I signed up to a local bee keeping course I saw advertised over at the community hub. I now volunteer at the city farm opposite, looking after their hives. It’s nice to be able to spend time with the kids from my granddaughter’s school, who are over regularly helping with planting. In a couple of months I’ll be starting my summer evening garden fragrance tours back up – they’ve been popular with local mental health charity.
Gardenia became plastic free a few years ago and I offered my expertise from my old accountancy days to help set up a business producing starch based alternatives grown in the linear garden.
That led to me attending the stewardship meetings. Up for discussion this month is the proposed community owned wind turbine for the northern gateway. There’s also plans for rewilding some of the land to the north as well. Species counts in Gardenia have been bucking national trends, with the numbers of insects, birds and mammals right up. That’s all thanks to the community’s habitat initiatives.
In the nine years I’ve been living here, things have evolved. There are less cars on the road. Year on year, the Air Quality Data Commission identifies Gardenia as one of the healthiest urban areas to live in the UK. As a community we’re very proud of that.
We’re also seeing tourists flocking to our annual cherry blossom festival – it’s even attracting visitors from Japan now which is fantastic.
For now, I’m eagerly awaiting Gardenia’s first ever fish harvest from the new aquaponics centre. What an achievement that will be!
Initially a sceptic, Ray’s realised that garden city living is just about looking after and investing in the local environment and therefore investing in his family’s future.
Gardenia’s Linear Garden Concept
Gardenia looks to create a rich environment for people and nature to thrive in and enjoy
Organic Cell Structure of Gardenia
Gardenia creates lots of neighbourly clusters focussed on people and community spirit which forms the basis of a flexible phasing strategy
Places with Distinctive Character
Gardenia is divided into areas of different characteristics that reinforce its identity
The core team brings together expertise in Architecture, Landscape Design and Urban Design. They’re also part of our Place studio – a home for initiatives aimed at influencing how we go about Shaping Future Places.
The introduction of our future residents – Ray, Anna and Howard – has helped us visualise more holistically the possible impact of our proposals on the communities who could be expected to live in and around our model settlement.
A key design idea is to substitute streets for clusters. Placing small green spaces at the heart of each cluster encourages community and implies a sense of ownership. It’s what garden cities are all about.
At the heart of the masterplan is a garden. Not large in footprint but stretching skywards, the vertical botanic garden will re-establish the city’s original strong axial geometry set out by Parker and Unwin. This striking planted structure will become the emblem for the development.