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Theme: landscape and exterior products

As much landscape design now includes little planting and more architectural elements, we examine developments in street furniture, paving and lighting that allow designers to create complete three-dimensional environments Landscape architects traditionally complain that, because their part of any building project comes last, it is their budgets that are raided to cover construction cost overruns.

It certainly happens and the results are too frequently visible in that critical zone between the building and its locale. You rather wish landscape architects could devise a way of getting on site further up the critical path - and with uncrackable contracts.

Happily, it does not always happen this way, and the whole scope of what we call landscape design has recently opened up, not only in terms of the imagination with which it is designed but also of what we think of as 'landscape'. Several recent coffee-table books on international landscape design (Robert Holden's New Landscape Design, Lawrence King, London, 2003; and Michael Spens' Modern Landscape, Phaidon, London, 2003) suggest that there is a trend towards what we might call architectural landscape design.

Both hard and soft landscape elements are deployed in the cause of a holistic, designed, three-dimensional environment - perhaps including sculpture, land art or waterscape.

This can involve almost no natural plant materials, such as Noborisaka and Buck's Osaka City University medical centre, or none at all, as in Hajek, Hiasek and Sepka's Upper Square in Olomouc in the Czech Republic.

AJ published the rst handbook on hard landscape in the early 1970s, so this represents a trend that has a long-ish history. What is different is that avant-garde landscape is not just to do with Gordon Cullen-esque hard ground-level surfaces, paving, setts, curbing, bollards and dustbins in extra-durable materials. It also deals with three-dimensional spaces such as those that were pioneered in the almost surreal designs of Emilio Ambasz, and are to be found in unexpected locations like the boardwalk and grass roofs of Foreign Office Architects' Yokohama port terminal, and Hasegawa's cultural-centre buildings at Niigata.

However little designers care to notice it, a recent signicant effect on the procurement of landscape design has been the advent of internationally popular television gardening programmes. They have not necessarily added much to the quality of landscape design but they have had a similar effect to DIY programmes - one of whose longterm effects (together with the de-skilling of much of construction) was to blur the distinction between traditional builders' merchants and DIY stores. Where once landscape designers used specialist nurseries for plant materials, they now have vast and diverse garden centres where plant material from all over is available in one location.

Soft option Permanent lawn irrigation is common enough abroad and at some upmarket health resorts here. But its rarity in the UK is probably due to the general impression that there is enough rain for most of the year and that it is not necessarily economic to install it for the few weeks or months when we have a long dry spell. With global warming, that view may change - and not having irrigation does not provide a good answer for the dry spells we already have. The eponymous Turf Irrigation is a company that designs automatic, pop-up irrigation systems for any setting, from homes to commercial office buildings. Pop-ups can be installed anywhere for watering any part of a garden, including owerbeds, where bubblers are most appropriate. The pop-up heads can be chosen to avoid sprinkling paths and to give anything from 360° coverage down to narrow sprays. The technology has been around for a long time but it is none the worse for that. Water pressure causes the heads to rise up and when the system, often controlled by a timer, is turned off they disappear back below the surface of the grass where they are safe from mowers and safe for children - up to a point. I can vouch for the truth of the story of a child pitching a tent for the night on the back lawn. At three o'clock the pop-up sprinklers turned on.

One of them turned out to be right in the middle of the tent.

Trees in towns

The traditional way to protect the area around trees in the city is to use circular cast-iron grilles that are supposed to be changed as the tree trunk thickens with age.

More modern solutions include galvanised grids, which relate to the geometry of the surrounding paving. Like the older solution, they allow the root system, which in most trees is relatively shallow and spreads out to the same circumference as the canopy, to be watered adequately. In suburban streets the grid is often omitted, and the rectangle of bare earth immediately attracts dogs and litterbugs. A new solution is SureSet's tree pit. It looks like a bed of pebbles. In fact, it is a 40mm-deep bed of pebbles set in a resin matrix laid over a 100mm sub-base of freedraining crushed stone. The SureSet surface layer is also permeable. It can be laid right up to the trunk of a tree, although a plastic collar is recommended for young trees. The manufacturer says that, for more mature trees, the material round the trunk will 'thick out' as the tree grows. The resin cures in four hours and the pebbles can be substituted by marble, glass and natural gravel.

On the surface SureSet is a subset of much larger-scale, resin-bound pebble and aggregate decorative paving and road surfaces, based on examples such as Star Uretech's HFS and PB resin systems. The company's rubbercrumb binder system is used for soft surfaces for kids' play areas and sports facilities.

Tarmac is the traditional ground surface and has never been very exciting, not least because it comes in either black or black. But around six years ago European (particularly French) technology was introduced to the UK which meant bitumen ground surfaces could be any colour you liked. The technological innovation was a clear binder, a bit like varnish (rather than Star's resin) into which you could introduce pigment and, usually, aggregate reinforcement. Tarmac's technical people say its coloured product is mixed in the factory and built up in exactly the same way as traditional tarmac. It is through-coloured - the typical thickness is 25-40mm - and it normally contains an aggregate that works with the pigment to produce the desired colour and provides abrasion resistance.

The brochure colours are red, green, buff and golden. The Millennium Stadium has a lot of red, and one Gloucestershire school has a number of these colours in a pattern on its playground. Equipment has to be cleaned out after each colour batch, so the minimum load is around 5 tonnes and the price re ects cleaning and set-up costs, but Tarmac will mix colours to specifcation. It says: 'We aren't yet doing a colour chart but so far we have not been unable to meet any requests from specifers.' It has even done a white tarmac project for a client. Beyond that, the clear binder can contain just selfcoloured aggregates, giving the appearance of a gravel surface without the consequential maintenance problems.

Hard times

It is difficult to avoid grooved timber decking in your local DIY/garden centre, just as it has been difcult to avoid block paving in your local environmental improvement areas. However much they have become clichÚs, they are great solutions to ground surfacing problems. Block paving, laid on a bed of sand and ballast with the individual blocks locked together by the action of sand vibrated into the cracks, is arguably the great post-war paving innovation. It is easily laid, is laid dry and needs only a simple brick cutter as equipment. It performs remarkably well when the substrate is properly laid - and can look terric. This is partly because blocks come in a wide variety of colours, offering an alternative to black asphalt. They can be laid in coloured patterns and the blocks can be made in a variety of shapes.

Recently, South Ayrshire Council used hexagonal blocks by RMC Concrete Products in a formal pattern of charcoal and natural grey to surface a pavement and shopping area. This lends gravitas to the locality, which includes a tall, restored 18thcentury building. Paving colours tend to be strong, partly because traditionally ground surfaces are dark, and partly, one suspects, because of the idea that paving should be in dark colours to disguise that fact it is a natural repository for dirt and rubbish.

But it doesn't have to be like that. Brett Landscaping, for example, has recently introduced a new colour, Amber Glow, an almost pastel brown, to its Alpha and Beta paving range. The same company has also brought out white and yellow re ective blocks. Their surfaces are a highly durable epoxy coating incorporating re ective Ballotini glass beads, and they are reckoned to be particularly effective in marking parking bays or special restrictions in parking zones. They are integral, rather than having to be repainted at regular intervals.

Red and black marker blocks are also available in this Omega Plus range.

Marshalls produces a wide range of paving, which represents a complete system: not only surfaces but also kerbs, edging, channels, drainage systems and walling.

These are not only made in concrete but in real stone and clay - and in a useful range of colours and textures. With the new hard landscape, drainage systems are as important as they are in buildings. Marshalls has three main ranges, some with metal grilles, others with unobtrusive concrete elements, and a kerb system which has drainage holes in the bottom side of the kerb leading down to U-shaped channels, whose sides also support the kerbing above. Marshalls' block range includes natural granite setts in 16 colours, Yorkstone setts in ve colours and a wide range of interlocking blocks. One range, Eskoo Six, is a hexagonal block that, the company claims, provides good loadtransfer characteristics and is designed to be laid using mechanically assisted techniques.

The firm has been making this kind of thing for a sufcient time for it to have developed sophisticated touches, such as the slightly chamfered edges of the Savanna blocks, the longer-than-usual Rustique and the wavy edged Petrapave, which produces an impermeable surface. Although one thinks of block paving as being made from bricksized blocks in regular patterns, Marshalls' Tegula clay pavers come in three sizes and are intended to be laid in a random pattern, although they can be laid more formally.

For people with a yen to reproduce the intricate fan patterns found in European public squares, Brett also offers prefabricated units that eliminate the need to set out the complicated interlocking pattern of intersecting fans. It makes four standard sections: top edge, centre, half and bottom. Coloured black, they form a seamless geometric pattern.

Blanc de Bierges has a special place in hard landscape. Its products include paving and paving details that designers use in innovative, three-dimensional ways.

Everything is in a creamy buff stone-like material made to a secret formula with a handcrafted textured surface. The general system now includes 7,500 modular products, which have been developed to meet particular problems. The large number means architects can often assemble configurations without having to cut. For example, the basic circular planter is made up of two sections which, with insertions, becomes an oval planter.

Bright and beautiful

The average street light is not necessarily a thing of beauty. Low-level garden lights are staples but light standards have only recently received the attention of the design world. Urbis' Hestia luminaire, installed at Thurso Mall Park, won last year's Lighting Design Award for Innovation. It is a 35W CMD-T lamp, with a 1659 micro-refl ector.

The small dimensions enabled the designer to think more creatively about the pole and boom, which have been pared back to their simplest possible form.

Take it easy

Lister has been making teak furniture for more than a century, and some of its designs are based on models by Sir Edwin and one high-back design is inspired by Mackintosh. Originally sourced from old British warships, the teak from which all the products are made comes from renewable, sustainable, natural-grown and documented sources in south-east Asia.

Designs include the Lutyens loving seats and others by contemporary designers. There is also a new Arne Jacobsen range, and some pieces by Robin Day that can also be used indoors as well.

Arts and crafts

The great gardens of the past were littered with artworks, sometimes in the form of sculptural fountains, as at Versailles and the Piazza Navona; sometimes as eye-catchers at the end of vistas, as at Chiswick House; and sometimes quite architectural, as at Bomarzo and Stowe. Sometimes they are intended to set a mood, as with the abstract Nicholson at Geoffrey Jellicoe's Sutton Place. At other times, they are commemorative. At Potters Bar railway station, the local community has created a garden in memory of the terrible railway tragedy. It takes the form of a 700mm-high stainless-steel sculpture set on a white stone column. Designed by local artist Paul Bainbridge, it was made by Birch Engineering, a company that for the last decade has specialised in stainless-steel sculpture for locations including Stansted Airport and Goodwood Sculpture Park.

In some ways the accoutrements of public landscapes, notably street furniture, have taken the place of sculpture. And although cutting-edge landscape design has transcended the old notions, those bollards, setts, curbs, paving, lighting and street dustbins are still the staple accessories of urban landscape design. The AJ handbook saw them, to a large extent, in terms of concrete. Today materials such as steel, and less obvious materials for rough public use such as glass and plastic, are equally valid.

The idea of designer stainless-steel dustbins such as Sulo's AuWeKo Citybox litter bins, is that 'their good looks enable them to be con dently located in hightraffic areas'. Designed and manufactured in Germany, one model has compartments for different kinds of rubbish. Townscape Products has recently installed its dustbins (and seating) in the Irish city of Cork.

It was designed to a specifcation by the US designer Beth Galli, who called for a stainless-steel design specic to Cork.

One of the litter bins produced by Marshalls is of a rather more conservative postbox form that belongs to the aesthetic of its traditional cast-iron bollards, tree grilles, guards and barrier systems. Marshalls also offers the possibility of making architects' designs for bollards in recycled plastics.

The company has recently developed an extensive range of designer street furniture - the Sineu Graff collection of Italian and French designs - for bollards and seats and integrated furniture in steel, stainless steel, cast-iron and timber. The Rhino range is for access control and anti-ram-raiding.

Stein+Design is a concrete collection of paving and street furniture. Largo is an integrated furniture suite using lacquered hardwood and steel. MSF is a range of castiron and polymer bollards in modern and traditional designs, tree grilles, frames, guards, bins, seats and benches, the more modern designs in steel and stainless steel.

Monoscape is a range of high-quality precast concrete seats, benches, litter bins, bollards, planters and cycle blocks. Maglin Furniture Systems has a more limited selection, but it, too, combines traditional and modern designs with a range-wide visual theme of vertical bars and slats.

READER ENQUIRIES

Birch Engineering 1501 Blanc de Bierges 1502 Brett Landscaping 1503 Lister 1504 Marshalls 1505 RMC Concrete Products 1506 Star Uretech 1507 Sulo 1508 SureSet 1509 Tarmac 1510 Townscape Products 1511 Turf Irrigation 1512 Urbis 1513

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