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From 'micro' to 'macro'

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Landscape is central to several projects now being undertaken by the London-based practice Patel Taylor Architects. Work is well advanced on the Thames Barrier Park, a competition win in 1995, on which the practice is collaborating with Parisian landscape architect Group Signes (led by Alain Provost) and Ove Arup & Partners. The first phase, in which the levels of the site were adjusted, culminated last autumn; the second, which includes construction of a riverside plaza/pavilion and a visitors' centre by Patel Taylor, and planting by Group Signes, is due to complete in December 1999.

'It's an architectural ensemble as much as a landscape one,' says Pankaj Patel; as is seen, for instance, in the architectonic topiary that defines the edges of the park. A sunken 'green dock' cuts across diagonally to provide a sheltered microclimate in contrast to the open, often windswept, plateau above. The choice and treatment of materials - such as 'big steel sections' for the bridges across the 'green dock' - reflect the industrial character of this dockland site while aiming for a low-maintenance future.

Just a few miles upriver, another Patel Taylor project is at Bankside, between Southwark Bridge and the Globe Theatre (and in sight of Bankside Tate). This response to an initiative by Southwark Council, the Government Office for London and the Architecture Foundation, involves widening the pedestrian walkway, at present funnel-like and grossly inadequate for the anticipated volume of visitors. Patel Taylor's scheme broadens the walkway by some 3.5m; as one approaches from Southwark Bridge, the new flanking wall (of granite-topped concrete) at first leans outwards, becomes upright, and then folds inwards. Its stainless-steel balustrade incorporates a Shakespeare quotation (the product of a collaboration with artist Gordon Young and Why Not Associates).

Patel Taylor's engagement with the urban landscape oscillates between the 'micro' - as at Bankside - and the 'macro', as in its proposed 'regeneration framework' for the coastal town of Minehead, Somerset, and its masterplan for the development of an 11.5ha site to the west of Ayr town centre (aj 26.9.96). The first phase of this, with a programme of improvements centred around an old dock, is now being executed.

'The challenge is to reclaim this area for the public realm and to make it a place,' says Patel. The site's industrial history is acknowledged in a number of artworks, again by Gordon Young; so also is the wider landscape of which it forms a part, with framed views towards the Isle of Arran both punctuating and terminating the path along the esplanade. A new bridge allows visitors to make a waterside circuit. Completion is scheduled for the latter part of this year.

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