London Olympic Stadium

London Olympic Stadium

In summer 2007, Art Gelling was called by a well-known recruitment agency. He was asked if he would like the opportunity to work on “an exciting new major sporting venue in east London… but I can’t tell you what it is…”

As London had just been announced as the host of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it seemed like an approach worth pursuing.

Working as project lead for Hyland Edgar Driver (HED) and embedded within the combined client / contractor / design team office in Canary Wharf, Art was soon rationalising the pre-award landscape strategy, developing the complex split-level access strategy, and managing the tight-nit landscape project team for the Main Stadium – to be the focal point of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and venue for the opening and closing ceremonies.

As soon as the site clean-up was complete, the whole team moved to on-site offices for the “complete” embedded major project experience.

Art took the team through the complex, multi-staged landscape planning submissions on behalf of Tier One Contractor Sir Robert McAlpine, architect Populous and engineer Buro Happold. The scale and complexity of the Stadium meant the project was run separately from the rest of the Olympic Park, and on an advanced programme.

The pace of the build (driven by the unmoveable 2012 deadline) demanded that groundworks Planning submissions were made before above-ground design was known; Above-ground submissions were made before detailed designs were developed: The strategy carefully built in flexibility to develop the next stage of detail.

Design innovations included the road-tests for the glamorous floral meadows (planted the following year across Olympic Park)and designing the precisely engineered, undulating planted embankments. Less glamorous, but every bit as important, we developed the creative solutions to safe working, eliminating worker contact with contaminated ground, and the grade separation of security.

Art presented the designs at packed Stakeholder Interest Group workshops, covering diverse topics from ecology to equitable access to security. His small team completed the hard and soft landscape Tender packages for all public-facing and back-of-house areas of the ‘Stadium Island’ and assisted through the procurement process.

While day-to-day site duties reverted to colleagues, Art continued the team-leader role and carried out regular site inspections throughout construction and maintenance until handover for Games Overlay.

The project was designed to world-class environmental, safety and new, best-practice standards for accessibility to front- and back-of-house areas.

We established new riverside meadow habitat. We re-claimed and re-purposed granite dock edgings for the edge of the River Lea. We procured and planted willow trees that could barely fit on the largest flat-bed lorry. We procured UK grown pollards to re-establish in the river valley, and we set-out the post-Games landscape strategy. We even sneaked in some edible plants (isolated from the contaminated substrata). We fulfilled the late (and visionary) John Hopkins’ dreams.

Thanks to Daf (HED), John and David (ex-HED), and the project team from SRM, Populous, CLM, Buro Happold, KLH Sustainability, Rick’s team at Willerby, and many others.

As a team we handed-over the completed site ahead of programme and to a tight budget… and were nominated for the 2012 Stirling Prize.

… and Art’s plan is the front cover of a book of Olympic Stadia!

Hampton Hill Junior School

Hampton Hill Junior School

When the second of our kids was heading towards secondary age, we were chatting with one of teachers (an allotmenteer) about her burgeoning school kitchen garden. She mentioned a neglected wildlife garden and asked if I could do a quick planting plan for some herbs. Four years later, working alongside the inspirational Mrs Morgan (in a consultancy agreement paid in pick-your-own-summer-holiday strawberries), we had transformed the unloved and overgrown area into a buzzing, wildlife-friendly outdoor classroom with thematic study beds, seating, and mini-meadow, to complement the thriving kitchen garden.

With a regular crew of child labourers (and their parents) at weekends, the garden project grew and the space assumed important new roles: As breakout space for children with special needs, staff chill out, PTA events venue, a science lab and maths workshop. It became home to frogs, newts, toads, bumble bees, stag beetle and cockchafer larvae.

In 2014 the gardens were commended by the RHS as an exemplar and produce and plants grown and sold at PTA events even meant the gardens became financially sustainable through the ‘austerity era’ financial pressures.

 

The garden transformed the front entrance to the school and, even more importantly, the outlook from the Head’s office. More fundamentally, it has touched the lives of  countless children, parents and siblings who still come to feed the chickens, pick the strawberries and fish for water snails.

An “Eco-Schools” flag flies proudly in the corner.

Dane End

Dane End

In 2020, we helped King & Co reinvent a former farmyard in Hertfordshire as the ideal setting for 26 new homes and new workshops, nestling among the existing farm buildings on the rural edge of an existing village.

The proposals overlay new with existing heritage, and the landscape strategy plays a strong role in maintaining the characteristic agricultural origins of the site and embedding new and refitted buildings into the peri-rural context.

The rusting remains of disused machinery, vehicles and debris from agriculture and light industry, will give way to an organic combination of workshops and homes, retaining and converting the existing farm buildings, where feasible, into modern terraced homes and workshops.

The development takes a sustainable, “retro-fit first” approach to the site’s existing buildings and heritage, converting two disused dairy sheds into characterful new terraced homes.

New homes of contemporary design, feature materials within the local tradition – brickwork and timber-cladding. They form a series of yards, in a nod to the organic layout of the original farm.

Where we can, we retain the 19th Century walls of the local, large-format “Hitch Brick”, and new walls will add to the original agricultural yards – organising and characterising the development.

Our proposed paving and walling materials, and our strategy for soft landscape take their cues from Hertfordshire’s clay valley-floor landscape. We utilise clay stable-pavers, locally prevalent trees, native hedgerow and grassland species.

Within a nature-rich pocket park, an orchard of Hertfordshire-bred fruit tree varieties is set within local wild-flora to create the habitat for children and wildlife to thrive, in an environment with uniquely tailored local references.

The site’s perimeter restores hedgebanks and swales lost during the 20th Century, to recreate vital corridors to help reconnect local islands of habitat, and replenish the nearby Old Bourne brook.

 

We focused the walled pocket park around a small, natural play space, which, with its orchard and grasses, flora and seats, will become a nature-filled, green-place for the new community to share with the rest of Dane End.