Re-imagining the Garden City RIBA competition

Letchworth Garden City
Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation

Investigation into how garden city principles are relevant to contemporary living; sustainable communities; landscape-led design approach

Overview: c1,000 homes and local centre comprising primary school + retail + employment + transport hub + retirement living

Our Place team’s recent submission for the RIBA’s competition entitled ‘Re-imagining the Garden City’ for Letchworth Garden City was shortlisted down to the final 4 out of 95 international entries. We used this competition to establish and test a universal set of principles that we believe can be applied to different environments to help create healthy and happy places in which people want to live. With a limit of just 2-3 panels and a 6 page report to express our thinking, we had to communicate our intricately detailed testing of ideas clearly and concisely for both the judging panel and for the wider public consultation exercise.

In developing our ideas for it we have considered the following principles:

  • A place of places – we want the whole development to have a strong sense of place, a common distinctivity, but within it for there to be lots of smaller places, each with their own character.
  • Maximise its biodiversity – as largely open, arable land (existing site) there is great opportunity to introduce habitat and make it a hugely net-positive development
  • Well connected – to outside the site but with lots of internal linkages too, comprised of busier public areas and quieter semi private areas
  • Walkable – the layout should make walking and cycling easier and more appealing than getting into the car and that where parking is provided it is concealed or totally integrated / non dominant in the public realm
  • Visionary but practical – the design should be exciting and convention-challenging yet still appeal to the expectations of everyday buyers

As the concept of the Garden City approaches 120 years old, and hundreds of thousands of new homes are required across the country to address housing shortages, Ebenezer Howard’s notion of a place which blends the best of the town and the country is more relevant than ever today. Our vision, ‘Gardenia’, is in keeping with the Garden City tradition offering a bold, original and modern 21st Century model that is nature-inspired, semi-autonomous and community-centric – a vision that we believe can be used to support the goal of delivering sustainable growth all around the country.

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, to the shops but ultimately engaging as a community; a living, vibrant, green movement spine. Sprouting off of 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.