graham binnington architects
  • The Secret Garden
  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Competition Entry

In 2016 Leeds School of Architecture asked Alumni to propose a new Landscape Architecture teaching area that would also house a new Sustainable Technology and Landscape Research Centre. The site was located in the heart of the Headingley campus and already had mature gardens and woodland.

The existing site is a beautiful place. It feels secluded and private and offers a wonderful environment once within. It was important to retain this feeling of seclusion and mystique whilst also making the site visible to visitors and beautiful to onlookers. This concept led to using walled or ‘secret’ gardens as precedents.

The site has been laid out in such a way that the Secret Garden has a presence at the North of the site, but you only glimpse the structure over the high stone wall. The entrance to the site tapers with laminated beams overhead to give a feeling of enclosure as you reach the entrance. This is then immediately alleviated as you walk into the glazed foyer.

From the foyer, there is access to the offices and WC’s. Continuing through the foyer and back out into the open you can access the rest of the site via a single level decked area. The buildings have been linked with open spaces to keep the feeling of being on an open site and ensure a journey from space to space rather than a series of corridors.

The offices themselves look out over the idyllic setting of formal educational gardens. This will offer an enjoyable space for work but will also allow the staff to attend to students easily and also have an eye on expensive plant stock in the area. These gardens in turn relate to the retained store and the new research centre.

The flat roof above is broken by irregular openings. Both externally and internally to create unorthodox shadows like you would see within woodland. The exposed columns of the structure also allude to this concept. As the levels of the site recede to the South the floor level of the building does not. This elevates the view of the teaching space over the landscape and the outdoor amphitheatre. The teaching space also opens out completely over the external decked areas.

Stairs in the open area lead up to a roof garden area covered with wild flowers to encourage birds and insects. A bridge from this area leads to a raised educational viewing platform over the woods beyond. Below this new spaces are to be cleared and areas created for student garden areas and food production.

The existing work spaces in the site are to remain largely unchanged, however, if the structure is suitable, the existing classroom would be stripped back to structure and reroofed to create an open sided covered workshop. This area could retain its electrical supply and would perfectly respond to the research unit, workshop, educational gardens and yard. The South end of this structure is to be clad to create a tall experimental growing space.