Creating a Space to Breathe

13 Sep, 2017

As work on the Halo’s terrace gardens approaches completion, we find out what it takes to create an exotic green space in a distinctly urban environment

With the Halo’s construction work all but complete, there are some areas that are still, quite literally, growing.

People working in, or going past our Containment Level 3 laboratories will have noticed their view outside becoming decidedly more colourful over the summer. That’s because the roof space on the newly built annex is being transformed into a colourful terrace garden. Pending final building work on the sixth floor, Halo staff will soon be able to take a break from their clinical laboratory environments and sit, or take a stroll, in an exotic green space on the third and sixth floors.

“From our earliest discussions about developing Halo, I wanted our staff to have the opportunity to enjoy an outside area in what is a very urban setting,” explains HSL Chief Executive, David Byrne. “I’m delighted with what we’ve achieved so far and am looking forward to when everyone can enjoy a bit of fresh air, peace and tranquillity in the new gardens.”

Euston Road is in the top ten in the league of London’s most polluted air. Like all London councils, Camden’s planning policy calls for developers to consider more biodiversity on new building developments. There are the practical advantages of having a living, air-cleaning ecosystem on a modern building, such as reducing water run-off and providing a degree of natural insulation. While many developers pay lip service to the green roof planning guidance, the Halo’s gardens go way beyond the minimum requirements in this respect. As David Byrne points out, there is a real joy in providing more habitat for birds and insects – especially bees. Surprisingly perhaps, bees tend to thrive in urban areas as they are largely free from agricultural pesticides.

Form and function

Rebecca Heard is the gardens’ designer. She adds that a green space can help reduce people’s stress. “I thought people needed a break,” she says. “I wanted to create a space people will enjoy being in. The garden should provide a real contrast with what’s going on inside the necessarily sterile laboratory environment.” As if to illustrate this, the contrast now between what goes on in the laboratories, and the natural foliage outside, could not be more stark.

The gardens are first and foremost tranquil spaces for thinking, contemplating or taking a leisurely lunch when the weather permits. In her planting plan, Rebecca made a conscious decision not to adhere towards an obvious link between medicines and plants. Instead she has gone for what she describes as a “loose” approach – one that is about colour, movement and texture.

In a nod towards much of the work going on inside the Halo, she has introduced ornamental Niwaki trees. Niwaki is the larger form of Japanese bonsai in which trees are highly sculpted to create distinctive shapes and sizes. “The HSL team spend most of their time trying to control nature to produce something good for society. Niwaki is the horticultural equivalent of controlling nature to create something beautiful and impressive,” she explains. David Byrne’s brief was not prescriptive. As well as ensuring that access was easy (and this required some careful planning) he was keen for the gardens to have height and movement.

As well as the distinctive Niwaki trees, Rebecca has included some wonderfully weather-gnarled olive trees in the space. There is bamboo too, which waves in the breeze producing a calming rustling noise against the backdrop of the traffic below. These will afford year-round colour and texture with more vibrant colour provided by the plants and shrubs that will burst into life in the spring and summer.

Lunch on the terrace?

As soon as the gardens are complete, the finishing touch will be provided by a sculpture which is being commissioned by Simon Thomas. He is a pioneer of what is now termed the Art/Science forum in which he researches the underlying patterns of nature through observation and scientific study. There’ll be a separate piece about his work when the sculpture is installed.

Access to the third floor is restricted until the building work is completed safely but David Byrne hopes that people will be able to enjoy the very last days of summer. In any case, the garden areas will be open all year round and will be a breath of fresh air for everyone in the Halo.

HSL is a partnership between The Doctors Laboratory, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (the Royal Free London) and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH)

Health Services Laboratories
Health Services Laboratories
Health Services Laboratories