Gardens to a 1930s block of flats, designed by Richard Sudell in approximately 1937.
Reasons for Designation
The courtyard gardens at Dolphin Square, a mid-1930s landscape for a private housing development by Richard Sudell, are registered at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:
* Design interest: as a high-quality landscaping scheme providing a series of garden environments, where small-scale intimate spaces contrast with open lawns, with an emphasis on geometry and balance, carefully integrated with the surrounding building;
* Rarity: one of few surviving substantial interwar landscaping schemes to a private housing estate;
* Historic interest: one of a limited number of schemes known to survive by Richard Sudell, an important and influential figure in the development of mid-C20 landscape design, and a pioneering theorist, writer, and advocate of the profession;
* Representative of Sudell’s design philosophy, and illustrative of the principles set out in his significant 1933 book, Landscape Gardening;
* Illustrating the fashion of the period for themed gardens, incorporating designs inspired by several nations’ landscaping traditions;
* Degree of survival: the overall structural layout survives very well, notwithstanding the reconfiguration of the former Spanish/Mexican garden and one of the western recessed gardens.
Dolphin Square is a block of flats with ancillary facilities, dating from 1935-1937, designed by Gordon Jeeves for Richard Costain Ltd. The neo-Georgian building consists of over 1200 flats arranged around a large central courtyard garden, and was designed to be a self-contained living environment, which originally included shops and services, sporting and leisure facilities, a bar and restaurant, a telephone exchange, car park, and petrol station. Landscaped gardens appear to have been an important part of Costain’s vision for the scheme, and they were implemented in two phases, as construction of the building finished, to the designs of Richard Sudell.
The formation of the gardens was reported in the ‘The Dolphin’ – the flats’ residents’ magazine, in an article entitled ‘Riverside Rendezvous: How Your Gardens Will Soon Appear’, in October 1937. Designed for the ‘health and enjoyment of Dolphinians’, they were some of the largest communal private gardens in London, and provided a variety of environments: expanses of lawn with backgrounds of seasonal flowerbeds and formal beds, and more intimate, informal areas within the recesses between the building’s projecting wings. Themed gardens were built in the four northernmost recesses, following Dutch, Italian, Japanese and Old English traditions, and there was a Spanish and Mexican garden on the roof of the amenity block, the area which would have been exposed to the best sunlight. Sudell, stated that a ‘stroll around the square will …enable you to make a tour of the whole horticultural world. London’s Squares are beautiful indeed, but Dolphin Square will surpass them all in brightness, variety and originality’.
Sudell was an experience horticulturalist, and created a planting scheme to provide blooms as the seasons progressed, with appropriate plants concentrated in the areas of the greatest light and shade. Thousands of daffodils and tulips were planted, intended to give an early splash of colour, along with pansies, polyanthus and primroses, crocuses and snowdrops. Rose gardens fronted the amenity block, forming the formal centrepiece to the courtyard. The themed gardens had plants native to those regions, and elsewhere, a variety of shrubs were planted according to whether an area was intended to be intimate or open, formal or informal. Planting was used to emphasise the strong geometric layout, with the pathway along the north-south axis being lined with horse chestnut trees, creating a formal avenue with wide lawns to either side.
The principal structural elements of the scheme survive, though various features, such as some of the concrete urns and sculptural elements have been lost. The original central fountain was replaced by a bronze dolphin sculpture by James Butler, RA, to mark the 50th anniversary of the square in 1987. The Spanish and Mexican garden was reported to have had a central surface of blue, green and yellow tiles set in a geometrical design around a picturesque wellhead with brick and tile scroll-work, stone columns and trellis screening would have enclosed the garden. The Mexican ingredient was cacti. This garden was remodelled in the 1990s though retains the lion-head fountain and paving.
Costain is understood to have engaged the well-known landscape architect Richard Sudell directly. Sudell (1892-1968) was born near Preston, Lancashire. He began an apprenticeship as a gardener aged 14, and went on to study botany, chemistry and geology. He established his own horticultural consultancy in London in 1919, and during the 1920s, through the Royal Horticultural Society, met the eminent garden designers, Thomas Mawson, George Dillingstone, and Edward White, whose holistic focus on landscape, rather than just horticulture, appealed to Sudell. He was influential in bringing professional recognition to landscape design, being a founder member of the Institute of Landscape Architects, of which he was appointed president in 1955. A prolific author, he published numerous books on garden design and practical gardening of which 'Landscape Gardening' (1933) and the quarterly magazine 'Landscape and Garden' received wide recognition; he was appointed the gardens editor of the ‘Ideal Home’ magazine and a number of other publications. He advocated the consideration of landscape at factories, hotels, on roofs, for airports, and as part of new estates, and for landscape design to have as wide a reach as possible. Sudell spent three years in partnership with Marjory Allen on her innovative initiative to design a roof garden at Selfridges; this was lost in the Second World War. Part of his scheme at the de Havilland Aviation headquarters, St Albans survives, as do a number of memorial gardens, a landscape type to which he was forced to turn after the Second World War, when fewer private commissions were available. His memorial garden at the City of London Cemetery, Newham is included in the Grade I Register entry.
Gardens to a 1930s block of flats, designed by Richard Sudell in approximately 1937.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING: Dolphin Square stands in Pimilco, Westminster. The building is an oblong quadrangle orientated roughly north-south, with an internal courtyard garden of almost an hectare. This garden is technically a roof garden, having a basement below, and is level, though the natural topography slopes gently towards the river to the south. There is a single-storey amenity block in the north side of the courtyard, and this has also has a roof garden, of about 100m².
The landscaping continues along the outer elevations of the building on the east and west carriageways, and the riverside, separated by Grosvenor Road, was also part of the grounds.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES: the courtyard garden is only accessible to pedestrians. Primary access is from Chichester Street, to the north, and is via two vaulted passages through the building, emerging between the amenity block and the east or west range of the principal building. Access from the south is through three vaulted passages from Grosvenor Street, now with iron gates. Access is also possible from each of the building’s 13 ‘houses’; their lobbies open both onto the street, and onto the courtyard gardens.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING: Dolphin Square was built in 1935-1937 to the designs of Gordon Jeeves. It is a large complex of 1236 flats with amenity facilities, originally aimed at a high-to-middle class clientele. The unlisted building is an oblong quadrangle, seven storeys high on the northern range, and ten storeys elsewhere, and is divided into 13 ‘houses’. Stylistically it is neo-Georgian, with strictly-ordered, repetitive elevations, which are slightly more restrained in their decoration on the inward-facing elevations. A single-storey range, containing leisure facilities, projects deeply into the northern half of the courtyard.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS: the courtyard garden is the principal element of the scheme. It follows a geometric layout, with a strong central axis running roughly north-south, connecting the loggia of the amenity block, the central fountain, and the three archways on the southern range. Paths cross the axis perpendicularly, dividing the gardens into distinct sections. There are five recesses along the east and west sides of the courtyard in between the projecting wings of the building; each contains a separate, small-scale garden. A continuous perimeter path separates these from the central features of the courtyard. Most beds are raised, with low Cotswold stone walls with concrete copings, and these generally follow a strict geometric layout; those bordering the sides of the amenity block digress from this framework and meander along the edge of the building. Paths are laid, in the main, with concrete slabs, some of which have crazy-paving borders and occasional brick highlights.
To the south of the courtyard there are large lawns either side of the central pathway, which is lined with pollarded horse chestnut trees, and there are clumps of trees on the outer edges of the lawns. The privet hedging along the northern edges of the lawns were part of Sudell’s design; the hedging enclosing the outer and southern sides is a later introduction. North of the lawns is a formal arrangement of four raised lawns around a central pond with Butler’s dolphin fountain at the centre. Within the lawns there are beds, echoing the shape of the pond, with notched corners. This stands in front of an open loggia, with Doric columns and a copper roof, flanked by raised beds and low pavilions of banded brick and ashlar.
At the centre of the loggia are steps up to the former Spanish garden on the roof of the amenity block. This is paved in terracotta-coloured tiles and has a lion’s head fountain on the north side, in line with the principal axis of the courtyard. The Spanish garden, redesigned in around 2000, has pergolas, trellises, and a number of large potted shrubs.
The northern four recesses of the square originally contained an Italian, a Japanese, a Dutch and an Old English garden. Of these, the Japanese garden (which is said to have been re-christened the Chinese garden after the Second World War) in the north-east recess, is the most recognisable, retaining its narrow bridge and rockeries. The Italian garden, within the north-western recess retains the original layout, though enrichments: ivy-covered columns, classical sculptures and vases have been lost. The Dutch garden, between Duncan and Beatty Houses, is a formal arrangement with four raised beds around a central circular seating area; the armillary sundial and topiary do not survive. The English sunken garden, opposite, is a circular path around a bed, with raised beds to either side and in front.
In the central opposing recesses are two large pergolas supported on square stone and tile piers; attached trellising hides vents form the basement. There are stepped paths around the sides and through the centre of the pergolas, which converge at a circular step, which forms a perpendicular axis with the central fountain and the opposing pergola.
South of the pergolas, the next pair of recesses have raised lawns either side of a central pathway with seats and beds to the rear. That on the western side has been remodelled with a central circular seating area. The two southernmost recesses each have four raised beds bisected by pathways, with raised borders and a central seat. These have substantial shrubbery.