Studio Weave, in collaboration with MESH Partnership landscape architects won a competition for a public space in Blackburn town centre as part of the International Landscape Competition, Pennine Lancashire Squared. Our entry was for a Secret Landscape Garden that the nearby buildings gather round as if around a picnic blanket.
Our site is a slightly unloved space to the rear of Blackburn’s Mall. It sits at the crux of a number of overlapping grids and has significant level changes that make it difficult to envisage as a formal civic space. So rather than remodeling into a compromised version of such a space, our approach was to celebrate its unique characteristics and encourage it to express it inherent nature: a gallant, flourishing landscape, shared between a gathering of buildings.
The landscape doesn’t profess to be a slice of natural countryside but grows out from the urban fabric taking in rationalized traffic and accommodating level changes and desire lines, all the while delicately framing views of Blackburn landmarks side by side with new follies. We designed the landscape by exploring the adventure of a boy who finds a mirror on the floor of the shopping centre. The mirror is based on the Claude Glass an 18th century pocket mirror used by artists and tourists to capture picturesque views. In the mirror, the boy sees a secret landscape garden where the trees are enjoying their own versions of various playground games.
We worked with a book illustrator to develop the views and the personalities of different tree species to create a landscape garden full of journeys and adventures like a collection of incidents in archetypal stories, waiting to be discovered.
The fifth time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw... a lake. He walked along a little path that followed the bank of the lake until he came to a small tree that was casting its doodles the short distance over a small stream. The boy knew and liked this game. He took a few steps back to get a good run up, then sprinted as fast as he could and jumped clear over the stream. Pleased with himself, he looked back at the little tree, half expecting some sort of cheer or something. But the tree paid no attention, so the boy continued along the path around the lake. Soon he came to a tree that was playing a similar game with two trees on the other side of the lake. The lake was quite wide at this point but the trees had managed to reach each other over it. The boy was impressed. He stepped gingerly onto the edge of the bridge made of doodles. It was firm and strong, so he walked onto it properly.
As he walked over the bridge, he brushed his hands along the loops. Some of them were very tight, presumably keeping the bridge in place. He was reminded of some other girls at school that liked to play cats cradle but he didn't know how to play this properly with the girls so he didn’t expect he’d be able to play it with trees.