Ministry of Defence HQ

At the new Ministry of Defence (MOD) Andover North site, hard landscaping has played its part in creating sensitively designed, unintrusive grounds for employees to enjoy.

MOD Andover North is a new £40m defence logistics facility built on the 30-acre site of a former World War II airbase. All the existing buildings were demolished and replaced with new offices, a warrant officers’ mess and living accommodation designed by Percy Thomas Partnership.

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Commenting on the exterior scheme, Jane Findlay, director of landscape architect practice Fira, said: “The MOD was looking for something different in terms of the design – a potential benchmark for future projects – and we have sought to achieve this.”

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Ecologically sensitive

Fira has considerable experience in landscape design work for the MOD. It was involved with the 100-acre Abbey Wood campus in Bristol, an MOD office in Portsmouth and the landscaping for offices and housing at MOD Middle Wallop. Recently it won the master planning contract for Project Barrington, the defence academy near Schrivenham.

The Andover North site is on the edge of downland and the brief called for an ecologically sensitive scheme of high design quality. The materials used needed to be of the highest quality in all the principal public spaces so Fira chose to make extensive use of handcrafted, natural coloured Blanc de Bierges products throughout.

“The emphasis was on a natural design approach,” said Findlay. “For the client, this meant much more than the inclusion of an ecological garden. The wish was for a natural look to most of the landscape. We kept as many trees as possible, used them as a framework and planted a number of new semi-mature ones. There’s a kind of semi woodland or parkland feel to much of it.”

Due to operational regulations there was to be no car parking close to the buildings, which gave Fira more design flexibility. As well as areas of woodland and parkland style planting, the scheme includes:

– a plaza for formal occasions
– the mess courtyard
– mess gardens and lawn area for events
– the ecological garden with a small lake and play area for the creche

One of the major challenges for Fira was the lack of topsoil. “The ground was very chalky and this presented a lot of work,” said Findlay. “We had to choose plants that were suitable for alkaline soils.”

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“In the ecological garden, the client wanted a wildflower meadow but these can be difficult in terms of maintenance. So we opted for prairie planting. We also made use of decorative grass. There are lots of perennials and shrubs planted in a controlled way so that you get bursts of colour throughout the year.”

Included in the ecological garden’s prairie planting scheme are Achillea, Rudbeckia, Helenium, Pennisetum, Echinops, Aster and Miscanthus. Closer to the buildings, are areas of more formal design. Findlay continued: “The site design had started when we were appointed so we looked at the shape and geometry of the buildings and created lines of planting to contain them.”

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Modern geometric shapes are used to reinforce and focus on entries: for example, the triangular plaza outside the entrance to the office building. In addition, the trees close to the buildings are clipped into a box shape, reflecting the formal lines of the planting and hard landscaping.

Findlay had used Blanc de Bierges materials on a number of previous projects and was familiar with their quality and flexibility. She also felt that they would be ideal for this project because of their ‘crisp and clean appearance’.

She explained: “The buildings are very modern with strong design lines and we wanted the landscape materials to reflect this. The natural creamy colour of the Blanc de Bierges blends well with the render used for the officers’ mess. I also like the texture of the materials. They contrast beautifully with the blue Irish limestone – the other main hard landscape material – and the effect is particularly attractive after rain.”

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Blanc de Bierges paving setts and slabs in a dozen different shapes and sizes, including radial slabs, feature in the project. Some of the paths have been created from slabs laid in what appears to be a random manner to give an interesting, jagged edge. In addition, Blanc de Bierges developed a special kerb unit for the edges of the raised lawns – an important aspect of the project.

Findlay added: “The geometric shape of the lawn in the plaza area made it tempting for people to walk across the corners, so we raised it to help prevent this happening, then needed a special edging which Blanc de Bierges worked with us to develop.”

Blanc de Bierges often works with designers to make bespoke products. Findlay praised the company for this aspect of its service as well as for the technical support provided to Fira at all stages of the project. Scott Stewart, compliance manager at the base, commented: “The staff love the landscape. There are always people outside during the lunch break, strolling along the tree lined paths or sitting by the lake watching the fish.”

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The ecological garden looked ‘fantastic’ this year according to Stewart. He said: “The landscaping has just had its second summer and it is improving all the time as it matures. The project has now been nominated for the local council’s Gardens in Bloom award. It’s satisfying to think it has been so well received.”

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