As one is drawn through this space by the elements of the park, clear prospective views to refuge and other people create a sense of safety. All of the spaces for refuge within the park allow for prospective views toward the water feature and sculpture areas, while protecting the user from the harsh sensory impacts of the urban environment; one feels secluded, yet safe, with people in clear sight.. One can sit near the water, view it, listen to it, touch it or even walk through it, giving an individual control over how they feel within the space.
History of Site
Eastside City Park was opened in 2012 and forms a key element of Birmingham City Council’s Big City Plan, costing £11.75 million. The park has introduced 2.73 hectares of green space into the high density city centre and is vital for the ongoing regeneration of Millennium Point.
The park itself has a flat, monotonous terrain with an open character, (a rare typology within the public realm of Birmingham’s urban core) in contrast to the narrow streets and tall buildings of the surrounding urban context. This open character allows views to the most prominent features of the park, such as; biomorphic sculptures, water fountains and a wildflower meadow. Each element is unrestricted and free to be actively interacted with by the user.
Goals of the Project
The space needed to contrast all the negatives associated with urban living found in Birmingham, ie high density, narrow, crowded streets. It also needed to address inequalities in access to health and green space, as noted in the Green Living Spaces Plan and the Marmot Review.
The solutions lied in creating a substantial green space with an open character that was easily accessible by various forms of transport and met the needs of the local and greater metropolitan general population. The project needed to provide a connection to nature that was noticeable absent from the city centre, through passive and active interaction.
How is the Space Biophilic?
The high number of refuge spaces, appeals to a wide range of users with differing landscape preferences. These refuge spaces vary in size, function and level of protection. Many of the refuge spaces are combined with prospective views towards the wildflower meadow and/or the water fountains. Both provide visual access to and ephemeral experiences of nature.
It is due to these factors that this case study hypothesizes that the park triggers mental restoration through visual access to nature. It achieves this, in part by providing a large enough buffer zone between the user and the constant environmental stressors of urban Birmingham (traffic, noise, crowds, etc)
Biophilic and Natural Attributes of the Site
The long avenues of the site provide prospective, uninterrupted views of nature to the user. The initial prospective view is 365m in length. This view from the park entrance surveys the savannah like grassland areas, the monolithic-like biomorphic sculptures and the water fountains. The undefined form of the 140m2 water fountain allows for unrestricted sensory interaction and can even be walked through.
From atop the steps of Millennium Point, one has a key prospective view over the park, looking towards the savannah like 2500m2 wildflower meadow. The swaying grasses provide visual access to natural systems and non-rhythmic ephemeral stimuli. Atop the steps sit four imposing, totem like, rectangular shaped sculptures. From here, they act as a visual focal point throughout the park. The sculptures themselves are forged out of corten steel, a material which rusts over time, visually demonstrating the dynamics of time and weathering (access to natural systems). The sculptures are biomorphic in their design, representing the vascular structure of a plant leaf. The shadows cast by the light penetrating the porous structure of the sculpture create a temporal display through the day and year.
Significant Patterns of Biophilic Design
Prospect is the most prominent pattern within this space, due to the park’s open nature and long avenues. These prospective views are formed by pathways and framed by strategically placed vegetation and built structures. At the park entrance, a long avenue view extends through the park, visually encompassing biomorphic structures, water features and locations of refuge.
From the entrance point, the pattern is utilized to instil a sense of calm in the user by revealing the surrounding context and location of other patterns. This pattern strongly contrasts the urban context, which has a narrow, crowded, overpowering feel. By providing tranquil views to areas of escape within the park, this pattern allows for restoration to take place.
The most obvious and dominant occurrence of refuge within the park lies along the main avenue. This pattern of refuge is actually a series of patterns of refuge, with 11 individual spaces located along the eastern half of the main avenue. Each space consists of a bench, surrounded with vegetation and canopy cover overhead. These spaces of refuge also allow for prospective views over the savannah like environment of the main green for the Think Tank Museum.
Refuge is evident throughout the space in numerous individual occurrences, in various forms, types and scales. This allows varying users with different needs/baselines to engender a restorative response. Some occurrences of refuge in the park are obvious in their purpose and function (i.e. a secluded bench), while others are more intuitive and informal.
Presence of Water
The water fountains located at the centre of the park act as a local landmark and focal point for users. The water fountain shoots jets of water on a randomized setting throughout the central plaza, adding a degree of temporality and non-rhythmic movement with the flow of water.
The central fountain not only draws users into the park, but into the pattern itself. As the water jets are flush with the ground, the user is able to walk into the water feature and experience it haptically. This level of freedom allows the user to control their thermal comfort. The pattern itself allows the user to interact visually and passively.
Additional Biophilic Design Patterns Present on-Site
Other patterns present on site include biomorphic forms and patterns, the prime example being the sculptural totems of a leaf’s vascular system. Connection to natural systems is also evident with the sculptural pieces, with the process of natural weathering visible on the surface of the corten steel. The pattern of non-rhythmic stimuli can be experienced in several landscape features within the park, such as the swaying of the grasses in the wildflower meadow and the movement of water from the fountains.
Given Birmingham’s ascension to the Biophilic Cities Project last April, Eastside City Park is a flagship for biophilic urbanism as part Birmingham City Council’s Green Living Spaces Plan. With the Curzon Street HS2 station to be constructed and opened adjacent to the site in the coming years, this space will play a vital role in enhancing urban health and well-being for a significant number of people.
Case Study 01: Eastside City Park
Project Type: New Build
Year of Completion: 2012
Designer/Studio: Patel Taylor
Owner: Birmingham City Council