Barbican Pop-Up Garden
Mischa Ickstadt in Open Spaces, Reimagining Cities, Transportation, Urban Planning, parks, urban garden

The new pop-up garden at the London Underground's Barbican station. Image © Gensler

Every day we Londoners make our way through the urban jungle. Our daily routines bring us together with strangers and friends alike and together we endure some of the more dire spaces that our modern metropolis produces. And yet we discover opportunities in the strangest places to improve our urban environment and perhaps put a smile on the faces of our fellow urbanites.

The Friends of City Gardens found just such an opportunity at the Barbican Underground Station. From 2009, Thameslink ceased operating at the Barbican Station, thus ending the station's multimodal operation. As a result, two rail lines and the southern platform are no longer in use. Before the lines and platform are repurposed for Crossrail in 2017, the Friends recognised an opportunity and approached Gensler for help to improve this unused utilitarian space and have a little fun while we were at it.

As the pop-up garden is situated on a platform closed to the general public, the perception and experience of the garden is primarily visual and from across the tracks. The concept for the garden design is based on our perception of this space being defined by movement and speed. From the train, it is us in motion, passing through the space at variable speed - slowing to a stop only to speed up again as we pass. As we peer out of the window, our perception of the garden changes as the speed with which we pass the garden changes. From the platform, our view is static with only the arriving and departing trains bringing shifts to our view.

Image © Gensler

The garden captures this sense of movement and speed through density and amplitude. One might imagine capturing these movements in a single static image through a long exposure photograph. As the train passes through the station, slowing down and speeding up again, it would appear with maximum exposure at the centre of the platform. To either end, the train would appear to be less dense, less opaque. In terms of light, the centre might also be the brightest, or show the most colour.

The spacing and grouping of planters along the platform seek to emulate this phenomenon. Starting loosely spaced, they begin to bunch up as we approach the middle of the platform only to spread out again as we get to the platform edge. Similarly, the planting starts low and becomes denser and higher towards the centre only to decrease again to the end. Red vertical elements accentuate this fluctuation and bring a wave of motion to the installation. They begin a dialogue between the garden and the horizontal red lines of utility cables that remind us of the platform's raison d'être as a piece of urban infra-structure.

The planting scheme, while being shade-loving and offering a variety of colour and texture, takes us on a sensory journey and we might find ourselves transported to a forest glade, deep within a mountain vale.

Keep your eyes open as you pass through the Barbican station. For more information on how to view or become involved with the garden, please visit the Friends of City Garden's blog:

Image © Gensler

This project was a result of a collaboration between the Friends of City Gardens, TfL and Gensler. We'd like to extend special thanks to Marion Blair and Sarah Hudson, Friends of City Gardens, and TfL. The Gensler design team consisted of Tom McCreesh and Mischa Ickstadt.

Mischa Ickstadt is a big city kid who loves the outdoors. Perhaps as a result, he loves finding unique design solutions by combining distinct and differing perspectives. As a landscape architect he continues to be engaged in a variety of interesting challenges across the globe. Contact him at
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