Art & Design blog

Phil Askew

From 27 July 2013, exactly one year after the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, the Olympic Park will begin to reopen as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – with twice as much open space as the Olympic site.

The vast majority of the parklands designed for the Games will remain, whilst some of the new areas will be designed by James Corner Field Operations, the landscape architects responsible for the award-winning High Line in New York.

XETH interviewed Phil Askew, Project Sponsor for Landscape and Public Realm, about some of the design considerations.


XETH: The three main areas of the parklands are the Great British Garden (themed in three areas: bronze, silver and gold!), the 2012 Gardens, and the wildflower meadows. Who was involved designing the various gardens?

Phil Askew: Yes, the gardens are really distinct and include some of the most creative planting ever seen in a public space.

The Great British Garden was the result of a design competition by the Royal Horticultural Society and London 2012, which offered two individuals, Rachel Read and Hannah Clegg, the opportunity to help design a garden for the Olympic Park. It is more traditional in design with carefully planted areas taking visitors through the garden in a journey of discovery.

The wildflower meadows were carefully designed by Sheffield University professor Nigel Dunnett to both bloom spectacularly for Games-time but also to attract wildlife, including bees to the Park.

The butterfields, birds and the bees

XETH: Yes, were you worried about how fast the natural population of such insects could be attracted, or were they introduced artificially?

PA: We have not and will not artificially introduce wildlife into the Park but we are already seeing it return and in the New Year will be carrying out extensive wildlife counts to get a really accurate picture of what kind of wildlife has made the Park its home.

XETH: The 2012 Gardens comprise four beds of planting, representing four distinct parts of the world. What was the creative process for deciding which regions and species would be represented?

PA: Well, the Gardens form a living timeline of Britain’s long history of exploration, trade, and plant collecting and its impact on the richness and diversity of British gardens.

While the overarching focus of the parklands is on native biodiversity and ecological networks, the 2012 Gardens, based in the southern area of the Park, draws inspiration from the distinctive characteristics of plant communities found in the wild in Europe, North America, the Southern Hemisphere, and Asia. These will remain in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.


XETH: Some of the wild flower beds are extremely dense, and on sloping sites. What challenges does this pose in terms of adequate irrigation and drainage in the future?

PA: The parklands, as with the rest of the park, were designed with legacy in mind. Treated black water will be used to irrigate the Park and sustainable drainage systems will not only protect the planting but create a natural flood plain protecting 4,000 homes in Canning Town from flooding.


XETH: During the Games, people were quite comfortable roaming through the dense meadows compared to what you might experience with a formal garden – was there an intention to ensure that the gardens were inviting and accessible to people in this way? How does the mobile smartphone app contribute to this?

PA: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is a haven for both people and wildlife, our approach is to make the parklands inviting and accessible for all. The smartphone app adds to that accessibility providing information in a really effective way.

We will continue this approach as we open Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park providing beautiful parklands that are both innovative and welcoming – and we look forward to welcoming XETH readers to the Park from next year!

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