Landscape of 1975-8 associated with the former CEGB Headquarters designed by Arup Associates with advice from the landscape architect Peter Swann.
Reasons for Designation
The landscape for the former CEGB Regional Headquarters in Bristol, laid out in 1975-8 by Arup Associates with Peter Swann as landscape consultant, merits inclusion on the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Date & rarity: it is a relatively rare survival of a late 1970s commercial landscape design associated with a contemporary office building;
* Historic interest: it is a well documented, interesting and relatively early example of an environmentally friendly, low- cost and low-maintenance landscape design by Arup Associates with Peter Swann as landscape consultant for the CEGB, influenced by the energy crisis and reflecting the advanced 'green' landscaping solutions used by the CEGB at their power station sites;
* Intactness: the site, including its planting and 'designed' views, has survived particularly well, including its well-documented fully integrated planting scheme, and continues to successfully blend the building with the important surrounding landscape of the Avon valley and ridges in Bristol;
* Group value: the landscape forms an exceptionally coherent group with the building and associated structures it serves (listed at Grade II).
In 1972 the southwest regional board of the former Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) decided to consolidate some 1200 staff, scattered across 14 separate offices, into a regional headquarters. The brief for the new building included offices, laboratories, workshops, telecommunications, computer facilities and a canteen with recreational facilities. A 7.3 ha 'green field' site was found two and a half miles south west of Bristol with access from the A38. In order to sharpen the brief the CEGB commissioned a series of papers from the architect Barry Poyner of the Tavistock Institute which established the three main principles for the design: the building's visual impact on the surrounding landscape should be minimal; the building should humanise the working environment and give a sense of personal and workgroup identity within the framework of an overall community and lastly, the building should be the major modifier of the external climate through its structure, form and external enclosure, to ensure a good internal climate with the minimum use of purchased energy. To achieve this, Arup Associates were commissioned to design the building, with Nicholas Hare and Don Ferguson as the main job architects. They worked closely together with CEGBs own in-house designers and the landscape consultant Peter Swann, who in 1973 had only just established his landscape practice. Swann had worked as a landscape consultant for the CEGB on a number of their power stations and overhead power line schemes. Throughout his career, during which he worked on many hospital sites for the Wessex Regional Health Authority, Swann continued to work with Arup Associates, for example at Legal and General House, Kingswood, Surrey, which won an RIBA Regional Award in 1992. The landscape work at the new CEGB regional HQ included the creation of an 'invisible' car park, the introduction of a continuous perimeter plant box to soften the connection between the building and its landscape, extensive ground-modelling and top-soiling, elm replacement along the north east boundary, external soft landscaping, and an extensive planting scheme both outside and inside the building. A landscape management plan was finalised on completion to budget future maintenance.
Arup Associates was founded in 1963 by the Danish engineer Ove Arup (1895-1988) who was specialised in concrete construction. Arup wished to fully integrate engineering and architecture, and as a result his became one of the first practices to employ both engineers and architects. Arup Associates also specialised in the integration of structure and services and under the influence of the American architect Louis Kahn they developed the so-called tartan-grid, as used in the CEGB building. The latter’s design resulted in a large but low profile building with overhanging eaves, in a style reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. It consisted of seven interlocking pavilions each with a central courtyard, its style later termed by Lionel Esher (‘The Broken Wave’, 1981) as ‘romantic pragmatism’. Heating, cooling and ventilation were provided through an advanced, passive environmental strategy, devised by building engineer Tony Marriot, which harnessed the effect of internal and external sources of energy and the structure itself on temperature cycles. The building was specified and detailed for a long life, with high quality materials, including hardwood Iroko for the window frames, Spanish slate for the roofs and concrete blocks containing pulverised fuel ash from the CEGB’s own power stations.
The surrounding landscape had a profound influence on the design concept. At the time, the Government placed a clear responsibility on the CEGB to respect and enhance the existing natural landscapes in view of the large scale power stations being built. The CEGB took this duty very seriously and were one of the first large organisations to employ their own landscape architects to achieve this. In the case of the new regional headquarters in Bedminster, the particular prominence of the chosen site was identified early and the CEGB’s own landscaping techniques developed for their power station sites were used. The site, located on a high ridge overlooking Bristol, could be viewed from four prominent locations: from Clifton, Brunel’s suspension bridge, Ashton Court and the village of Long Ashton. Detailed impact and landscape studies were carried out which confirmed the need for a sympathetic, low profile building that not only follows the contours of the existing landscape, but aimed for a complete fusion between building and landscape. A continuous double wall, set away from the perimeter glazing of the new building provided a foreground to the building and created a visual ‘dead ground’ concealing the car park from within the building. The concealing technique used by the CEGB at their power stations, involving the creation of extensive earth-works and embankments from excavated spoil on site, was used at the CEGB site in Bedminster in order to screen the building and the car park to its south-east and south-west. A comprehensive planting scheme drawn up by Peter Swann was used for the hedgerows, the embankments surrounding the car park, and the staff recreation areas the north-west and south-east of the building, and a semi-automatic trickle irrigation system was installed. Within the building, planted courtyards and built-in plant boxes were to be an integral part of the interior design to further strengthen the link with the surrounding landscape. It consisted of ‘internal hedges’ with single species planting, and planted features around the main circulation and reception area. In total c1300 indigenous plants were grown hydro-culturally indoors, in lightweight porous clay aggregate. All planting was supplied by Row Farm Nursery Ltd.
Outline planning permission for the CEGB building and its landscaping was granted in 1973 with full approval following in June 1975. Works were completed in August 1978, and the building and its landscape were widely discussed in the architectural press at the time. In 1980 it received a Civic Trust Award and a Financial Times Commendation.
A designed landscape associated with the former CEGB Headquarters laid out in 1975-8 to designs by Arup Associates in consultation with the landscape architect Peter Swann.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
The rectangular shaped site, covering c7 ½ ha, is situated in Bedminster on a high ridge overlooking the city of Bristol situated in the valley below to its north-east and Ashton Hill behind it. The site slopes down in north-easterly direction with the highest contour at its south-east end at c65m, sloping down to c55 m. The site is surrounded by farm land, with to its north-east abuts the South Bristol Crematorium and Cemetery. This north-east boundary is planted with Elm trees and Ash and Maple hedges under planted with quickthorn, holly, hazel, dogrose, dogwood, laurel, viburnum, euonymous and snowberry line the north-west and south-west boundaries. The aim of this planting was to let the site blend in with the fields. The south boundary is formed by Bridgewater Road (the A38).
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The site is approached from Bridgewater Road, where a roundabout gives access to a short drive screened to either side by raised lawns. That to the right holds a sign bearing the name ‘THE PAVILIONS’. The drive, lit by low level lighting throughout, then splits, leading to the car parks to the south-west and south-east of the building. The goods entrance is situated at the far south-east corner of the site where a drive from Bridgewater Road gives access to the service yard to the north-east side of the building, which is flanked by a small security guard’s lodge built in concrete block with a pyramidal shaped slate roof, matching the main building. Pedestrians can access the site from Bridgewater Road, where a straight path with steps runs north-west to the front entrance of the building, passing the west side of the car park, giving access to it at various points.
The former CEGB building completed in 1978 to designs by Arup Associates, occupies c1 ½ha of the site, and is situated just off centre and is built into the slope following its natural contours. It has a very low profile with a strong horizontal emphasis, with its roof-scape intended to reflect the profile of the surrounding landscape. The building is enclosed by a double perimeter wall standing only 1m away from it. It is planted with low-growing cotoneaster ‘Avonrood’ interspersed with hebe, genista, salvia, juniper, potentilla and lavender. The wall was introduced to screen the car parks from view from within the building, retaining and emphasising the views of the surrounding landscape, and softening the connection between the building and its surrounding landscape. Seven of the eight pavilions forming the building enclose a square-shaped courtyard that can be viewed from the offices around it and offer natural light. Each is planted in a formal pattern, with a single small specimen tree contrasted with low growing shrubs and ground cover.
The building is surrounded to three sides by formal lawns enclosed by dwarf walls in concrete block work matching the main building, with planting at its base in places. Along the south west elevation are terraces for staff to sit outdoors, with a central path leading to the car park below.
The south-east and south-west part of the site are dominated by the ‘invisible’ car parks. That to the south east is square-shaped divided up with double rows of parking lined with trees, including Maple, Mountain Ash and Cockspur Thorn. To its south-east and south-west are grassed embankments with tall concrete retaining walls facing the sunken car park.
The south-west car park is divided into three long rectangular shaped areas, planted with trees as above. It incorporates tall concrete planting features to break up the space. Planting in these, and to the aforementioned embankments, include juniper, cotoneaster, laurel and hypericum, which in places are clipped in rounded shapes to frame the surrounding landscape in the distance.
The landscape to the north-west rear elevation is dominated by a large rectangular hedge enclosed field. The indoor swimming pool and dining room at this end of the building, are at basement level, and have doors opening onto a sheltered terrace, paved with concrete slabs. From here a concrete block stair with built-in plant-box, formerly planted with climbers, leads up to a cross-shaped paved terrace at office level. This is surrounded by raised concrete beds (planted as above mentioned) interspersed with timber benches. Shallow steps from the terrace lead onto a lawn enclosed by an L-shaped concrete block wall. The terrace and lawn offer extensive views of the landscape in north-westerly direction, including Bristol and Ashton Hill in the distance.