Perspectives Landscape Design

Another shade of green – refreshing the planting at NEO Bankside

We can't quite believe that it has been ten years since the completion of the landscapes at NEO Bankside in Southwark for Native Land.

Perhaps considered one of our most iconic projects, the distinctive and verdant landscaping at the RIBA Stirling Prize-shortlisted housing scheme continues to flourish and delight, enjoyed by both its residents and unsuspecting commuters who discover the tranquil space on their route to work.

We were incredibly fortunate to work alongside Graham Stirk of Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, who early on shared his powerful vision for a series of pavilions set amongst linear groves of birch, extending the distinctive landscape around Tate Modern into the heart of the scheme. What transpired was a beautiful tapestry of woodland gardens and walkways, an enticing inner world that complemented the exquisite architecture. The soft undulations of the groves, introduced to allow large trees to be planted over the basement slab, created spaces within the space, layering and filtering views and adding an overall sense of intimacy.

During the planning discussions, the London Borough of Southwark insisted that the landscape be accessible to the public during the day. As a result, we added two primary footpaths to facilitate this permeability. This is the immense gift of the scheme, the communal sharing of a green urban oasis that has become the route many take and enjoy every day. We employed a number of landscape devices to separate the public from the private realm. The moats and bridges through the groves convey a series of liminal spaces, marking the interface of communal areas and residential space. The history of landscape design is full of these rich threshold moments, enhancing the sense of journey, decision making and discovery that landscape design is all about.

NEO Bankside - completed in 2012

Now has come the time to refresh the planting that has become so much part of the project's narrative and much admired by the community there. To ensure that the planting continues to prosper and reflect our original design intention, Gillespies enlisted the help of planting specialists Marc Linton and Sarah Shirley of Studio Linton Shirley (SLS) to help us recapture the freshness and delight that characterises the original central Zen garden. The reworked design has stripped away some of the larger, mature shrubs to open up space again to seasonal flowers and low groundcover textures, providing a mosaic of vibrant colours, winterberries and interesting stems, as well as additional nectar sources for the bees on site. The team has also identified plants that were not part of the original planting and didn't fit with the design intent or aesthetic so that they can be removed over time and replaced with more suitable plants.

Laying out the central zen garden at NEO Bankside - June 2021
Replanting the central zen garden at NEO Bankside - June 2021
Replanting the central zen garden at NEO Bankside - June 2021
The team from Studio Linton Shirley and Gillespies

The team has formulated a 10-year plan to ensure the landscapes are maintained appropriately and deliver maximum benefits for residents, visitors and the environment. However, it is important to note that replanting doesn't always mean that a scheme has failed. Instead, it is an opportunity to secure a landscape's future and continued evolution.

We are genuinely delighted that the residents have allowed us to contribute to the ongoing story of this beautiful place, and we look forward to seeing this project continue to evolve and delight for years to come.