The setting of Canterbury Cathedral has not had a major overhaul since the Second World War. However, it currently copes with over a million visitors a year who are drawn to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Canterbury Cathedral Landscape Design Competition arose from the need to rethink how these visitors approach and encounter England’s first Cathedral. The west end and south transept of the Precincts formed the main focus of the competition and are effectively the Cathedral’s front-of-house.
Malcolm Reading Consultants were commissioned by the Cathedral to run the competition: a rare opportunity to make the setting ‘live up to’ the ecclesiastical masterpiece of the Grade I listed Cathedral. The competition focused not only on landscaping but also on accessibility and place-making, combining skills in landscape, architecture, interpretation and programming.
MRC created a microsite to publicise the competition and ran a press campaign. The dedicated microsite received nearly 10,000 hits, generating over 40,000 page views from 117 different countries. From the submissions, MRC advised the client on a shortlist of five teams. They handled communications with stakeholders and organised a public exhibition of the shortlisted schemes.
The winning team, Hyland Edgar Driver (HED), proposed a highly imaginative scheme which suggested a number of incremental changes to the Precincts including a pavement of etched ‘ledgers’ forming a new piazza, a Pilgrims’ bench with drinking fountains, seasonal planting at the Cathedral’s West Front, reintroducing herbs and wildflowers to the Precincts and restoring lost flint walls. The design uses contemporary artworks in glass and stone, reclaiming and recycling existing materials.
HED is an award-winning practice with a strong reputation for innovative work in landscape design and landscape architecture. It was part of Team Stadium, who worked on the Stadium Island landscaping for the London 2012 Games.
The competition was made possible through a gift from Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.