Canterbury Cathedral

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Canterbury, UK. 2013

View from Christ Church gate
Site Plan
South-West Axonometric
South-East Axonometric
Site Model, Aerial View
Site Model, view from South-East
Site Model, View from South-West
Site Model, View from West
Site Model, View from South

The northern areas of the Cathedral precincts and the conjoined King’s School are characterised by the formality of their green spaces. These clearly defined spaces direct a series of carefully composed elevations that enclose them. The southern precincts are governed by the a priori form of the Cathedral and the ad hoc nature of the walls and buildings that form the inner face of the deep and hollowed boundary condition. The surrounding space of the precinct and its character are the result of the pressure exerted by the Cathedral to preserve its dignity in the midst of the chaos of a medieval city and the historical economic pressures of the city pushing inwards from the city walls. The presence and reading of the Cathedral in its extraordinary mediaeval setting through Christ Church Gate is spatially and experientially critical. This contested notional ‘ownership’ of the southern precinct has historically resulted in a varied collection of uses. While the land has remained under the ownership of the Church the uses have, at one time or another, ‘belonged’ to either the city or the Cathedral leading to a place of great character.

The proposal seeks to introduce elements of construction, both hard and soft, that mark out spaces for foreseeable patterns of use and occupation. The agriculture of hops and fruit orchards, so familiar in the landscape of north Kent, relies on the creation of an orthogonal grid of trees or frames. The resulting unworked perimeter takes up the imperfections of the field lines and creates a varied and ecologically rich edge condition. Our strategy is to create a series of varied edge conditions that allow for the rich inhabitation of the precinct and an extraordinary planted field in the midst that provides a beautiful mid ground to views of the Cathedral.

Two rows of fruit trees are introduced to structure the southern and western edges of the precinct, giving a new legibility to the space. The trees form a planted colonnade, analogous to the cloister to the north but also the square at the heart of Kings School. The area formed between the trees and the precinct edge is paved with stone and on a prosaic level is used for the easy movement of people and goods. The area contained within the trees and the southern face of the Cathedral forms an extraordinary planted garth that directs visitors and presents the Cathedral over a rich biodiverse landscape. The colonnade of trees formalise the space in relation to the Cathedral and creates a mediating cloistered space to the domestic scaled architecture of the bounding buildings. The garth within the trees is inhabited by an astonishing garden of ornamental grasses, sedges, flowering perennials and sub-shrubs. The planting within the garden is low and reaches to the edge of the Cathedral allowing the building to rise from a varied and diverse sea of species. From Christ Church Gate the planting appears as a solid field but concealed paths meander through the planting.

New stone entrance ‘mats’ of Hopton Wood will be installed at all public entrances to the Cathedral, gardens and buildings echo an earlier such arrangement outside the southwest porch. The perimeter of the precincts will be paved in Mandale fossil. A shade darker than Hopton Wood it is tonally similar but contains shells and fossils; a nod to fossil figured stone of Rome and Santiago de Compostella yet familiarly English. Areas of hard landscaping within the garth will be of trass lime with a top surface of Caen stone chips, off-cuts from the working of the stone required for the Cathedral upkeep.

A new green oak water tower will be built within precincts. The new tower will sit at canopy level within the trees and occupy the same approximate footprint as the historic water tower to the north of the Cathedral. Rainwater from the Cathedral roof will be delivered to the water tower using the height differential between the Cathedral gutter inlet level and the water tower as the driving force. An irrigation system will carefully control the delivery of water from the tower under gravity to where it is required within the new landscape.