Topcentre Limited, Brighton – landscaping fitting for a flagship office building.

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Topcentre Limited, a leading provider of serviced office accommodation in the South East, was making its flagship office building in a prestigious, Victorian Gothic, listed building on an important hill-top location in Brighton. Topcentre engaged Lovely, Lovely, Lovely to design and build landscaping to enhance this beautiful building.  The brief was to create an environment that would help to attract high-end clients to the facility, and which would require low maintenance.

Unsurprisingly, there were several challenges that we had to overcome in the course of producing a coherent, attractive scheme that would thrive in the difficult environment. The site’s dramatic, exposed position means that it faces vicious, salt-laden sea winds that burn foliage. It also had thin, dry, chalky soil. These two factors meant that plants had to be expertly selected to ensure that they can tolerate such conditions. Furthermore, their care regime must take into account the stress that these plants are under. The open nature of the site meant considerable ingenuity needed to be applied unobtrusively to protect valuable plants and garden furniture from theft. The listed status of the building and its prominence meant that the local planning officers were also keenly interested in the project.

The end result is a pleasing environment for visitors to and users of the building. For passers-by on the public highway, the scheme fittingly enhances the grandeur and beauty of the imposing building. Whilst it intentionally harks back to the style of our Victorian forebears, the planting is thoroughly modern in style. The species chosen are beautiful and apt; they are suitable for the harsh environment; they met with the approval of the planning officers; and they have modest maintenance requirements … and we shouldn’t neglect to note that achieving such balance is rarely easy!

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A view from the public highway, shortly after planting.
The new planting (barely yet established in this photograph) adorns the building, allowing it to be gracious rather than forbidding.
A similar view before our work.
A rather bleak and bare setting for a fine building.
An early concept sketch.
This sketch allowed us to show our client how we intended to select plants to complement the colour of the beautiful, knapped flint walls. This lends warmth and appears to unite the building and the high retaining walls.
The design develops.
This sketch helps to show how colourful flowers will tumble down the high retaining walls, eliminating the starkness of the bare walls.
An example of a detailed design drawing.
Such drawings (of which this is a small fragment) served several purposes. They allowed us to explain the scheme to the planning officer and achieve her support. They also allowed us to start up the estimating process, to assure reliable control of costs.
One of the drawings of the beds.
We use drawings like these to develop the fine detail of the design. Such drawings are very important in communicating the design to all interested parties, who enjoy a clear understanding of how the finished scheme will look.
Construction in progress.
This shot shows the impoverished, thin, stony, chalk soil that was present throughout the site. An early task for us was to improve it with copious quantities of organic material.
The same beds later.
The developing scheme is beginning to show the dramatic colours of the shrubs and to demonstrate how the structural elements, such as the fastigate yews, will develop into strong, architectural elements in the future.
Purple and blue flowers harmonise with the flint.
The palette of purples and blues beautifully accentuates the colours in the flint. The small shore pine keeps its shape throughout the seasons, and provides important structural character in winter.
Dealing with weed trees.
The beds were little more than dust held together by the tangle of roots from the existing self-seeded sycamore trees. We always prefer to retain and incorporate existing trees into our schemes, but, of course, this is not always appropriate. In this case, the sycamores were weeds. As the site is a listed building, planning permission was required for their removal, so we piloted this through the local planning authority, and then arranged the tree surgery.
Solutions for the difficult areas 1.
In some areas, it was not feasible to layout new beds. For these areas, we chose faux lead pots and planting troughs, in period style. Exposed areas of soil were covered with slate chips, which help to reduce dehydration due to the sea winds. The colours of lead and slate tone in with those of the existing flint and of the new planting.
Solutions for the difficult areas 2.
The lower view shows the old beds, which were difficult to maintain. The upper view shows our better solution. We placed planters along the walls, which creates height and constrains the plants, helping to reduce maintenance. Meanwhile, the former beds were covered with slate chips. Here, as well as harmonising with the flint walls, they suppress weed growth.
Screening the car park.
The steepness of the site means that the car park is considerably higher than the adjacent highway. The upper shot shows how the planting is not only beautiful in its own right, but also how it helps to reduce the visual impact of the cars. By contrast, the lower shot shows how the cars earlier distracted the eye from the magnificent building.
Maturing.
The tough evergreens tolerate the harsh environment and enhance the visual appeal of the en tire scheme.
The structure is taking shape.
The shrubs drape attractively over the walls. Within the perimeter, they discreetly reinforce security by discouraging visitors from straying off designated walkways.
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