Ben Pritchard

The garden at Lady Margaret Hall Oxford

As it's swiftly approaching a year since I installed Pause into Lady Margaret Hall I wanted to write a little bit about the garden itself. Although there are images on the website I don't think it really captures what the garden is fully about and the clear reasons I selected this site in the first place.

It's probably two years ago I first visited this beautiful space with the intention of finding a site to install my final design. At that point the design had reached a screaming Holt as I needed to understand the context in which it was going to sit. Without the site..... Site specific work cannot exist so the search spanned the entire summer months where most of my time consisted of garden visits up and down the country.

The 12 acre grounds sits at the bottom of Norham Gardens near University Parks in Oxford. The initial view of the college opens up into a traditional formal quadrangle resembling many Oxbridge colleges. As you walk around, there is an entrance on the left hand side which takes you through to something far more unexpected. Throughout this space there is a juxtaposition between the formal and informal. 

The success of this garden is really down to the vision of the head gardener Ben Pritchard and his team. It clearly resonates that of a creative mind and vision. There are many different routes you can choose as you walk this space and along the way stumble across interesting features planting and seating. Moving from enclosed spaces to open lucid planting unlike the formal settings in most of the colleges closer to town. Lady Margaret Hall has the space to be slightly more quirky with their garden. I think this reflects their more liberal attitude.
 Lady Margaret Hall was the first college in Oxford to accept women in 1878 and has continued be maintain a reputation for being more open minded. That also helped with my decision to approach the college to begin with.

These large stoneware pots sit in the sunken garden made by Sven Byers.

The original buildings instantly became important for me to look at as there was a lot of differing brickwork ranging from early 20th century up to present day with the new accommodation at the back of the site. As I was using red brick there was a narrative immediately developing between site and object.

 The fellows garden is probably the most formal space surrounded by hedging enclosing this area. Hinting at more traditional features through the use of topiary, clean lines, and contained planting.

This seat is a memorial to Iris Murdoch who used to spend time in Lady Margaret Hall. I realised as I walked this space that there was seating of various kinds dotted around allowing students and visitors to enjoy the garden. However, there wasn't anything near the Woodland area which in my opinion is the most beautiful spot to be able to take the opportunity to focus a view in much the same way as landscape paintings do.

 The woodland area which sits at the bottom of the Fellows garden overlooking the river Cherwell is a lush green space surrounded by trees creating a canopy the quality of light is also stunning I wanted to position Pause so the sun light would hit the secluded seating space mid afternoon during the summer months. In the spring this area is brimming with daffodils and snowdrops. The thinking underpinning this design was to provide a seating space that enabled several people to share the same space whilst maintaining this idea of quietness and solitude. I'd realised that garden seating is often open and flat which makes you feel as though you are simply taking a moment to sit but it feels so temporary and transient. pause has been designed that the dimensions are larger than regular furniture seating which enables you to feel encompassed by the form. subtle nuances are always hinting at this. curves encase you and support the body in several different ways depending on where you and how you choose to sit.

The Chapel fascinated me as the brickwork's darker than most of the other buildings there and the dimension of the brick is narrower and slightly longer in length. Designed by Giles Gilbert Scott in the 1930's I particularly loved the bulging curves leading out from the windows to the base and rounded edges on the brickwork around the windows. The curve was another element that was strongly visible in my early drawings and models. All of these subtle details was building a synthesis between the site, space and design.

Here are a couple of images of the Pause installed. The grass is still recovering from the large hole that was made for the foundations to be laid. It's going to be interesting to see how it changes with the seasons and how it beds in over the next couple of years. 
It's also interesting to think that it will take on it's own identity within the site and everyone will use it quite differently. I recently popped in to take a few photographs in spring and I found a siamese cat sat there on the open seating taking in the sun. Which instantly brought a smile to my face.  

A big thank you to everyone in Lady Margaret Hall especially Ben Pritchard for being so supportive throughout this process he was able to fully visualise my ideas from our initial meeting.