|HCC Site ID.||1798||Parish:||Basingstoke|
|Designations:||Offices LB II; HE II||Area:||< 1 ha|
|Access:||No Public Access||Ownership:||Leased by Basingstoke & Deane Council to private companies|
|Past & present usage:||Office roof garden|
Location and Site
Mountbatten House is located in a commercial district of Basingstoke – Basing View – close to Basingstoke town centre, south of the railway line and north of a busy dual-carriageway road, Churchill Way. To the west is a public footpath leading to a foot-bridge across Churchill Way, and to the east is the iconic AA building. The listed Roof Garden is within Mountbatten House and also includes the land immediately surrounding the office building.
The elevated site slopes southwards and the building has been terraced in this direction to benefit from the open views. To the south of Churchill Way is a large public park, Eastrop Park, through which runs the river Loddon. This area of Basingstoke is largely residential and the site benefits from the large number of trees visible from the roof terraces.
In 1961 Basingstoke was one of the satellite towns around London designated as an overspill town to accommodate the population displaced during a major urban renewal programme in the capital city inspired by the New Town Development strategy. At this time the paper manufacturer Wiggins Teape moved its headquarters from Gateway House in the City of London to Basingstoke. In 1971 Arup Associates were commissioned to design a new HQ building under the leadership of the modernist architect Peter Foggo with James Russell being appointed Landscape Consultant for the Roof Garden.
The Architects’ Journal (24 August 1977) lauded the new building: ‘the quality of the landscaped terraces is astonishing’; the idea of stepped terraces had emerged in the United States but this was its first appearance in Britain. The building was awarded several important design awards over the next five years.
In 1981 Wiggins Teape commissioned a new building, Gateway II on an adjacent site and in 1983 the company moved its headquarters; Gateway I stood unoccupied until IBM took on the lease (from BDBC) in 1985. The building was then renamed Mountbatten House. The gardens had deteriorated during this period, but perversely this was when the building acquired the moniker ‘the Hanging Gardens of Basingstoke’ because of the way in which the over-grown creepers hung over the terraces and down the face of the building. Writing in the Architects’ Journal in 1985, Stephen Scrivens noted that after ten years the gardens were in need of a major overhaul, plants and shrubs had outgrown their original design purpose, the wind had created havoc with the vines and creepers and the plants lost had not been replaced. As a condition of the lease the gardens were opened to the public several times a year.
In 1996 IBM moved out and the current occupier, Thales Missile Electronics Ltd., became the new lease-holder. The current lease expires in 2016. For security reasons there is now no public access to the roof garden.
From 2009, BDBC as the freeholder of the whole Basing View commercial district took the decision to undertake a complete regeneration of the area; in 2015 this is now well under way but the more important buildings are to be preserved, including Mountbatten House (Gateway I) and its sister, Belvedere House (Gateway II). In January 2015 English Heritage gave Grade II listing status to Mountbatten House and the terraced roof gardens were registered Grade II in their own right on the EH Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
Original 1976 Garden Design
The Gateway project was an early development of terraced roof gardens in Britain, integrating radical design ideas into the built form, employing the most modern techniques and materials for waterproofing, irrigation and drainage, and developing a palette of plants that would survive in the shallow soil and extreme exposure of an urban roof. Many of the plant species were innovative in so far as their hardiness in an environment that was prone to extremes of weather, setting parameters for a new design process.
The building is designed symmetrically around its diagonal axis, and is stepped back severely from level 3 to 6. The main garden is on level 3, with a central pond garden below on level 2; deep terraces are found on the upper levels. The gardensque style adopted by James Russell was intended to bring a freer more natural style of planting into the workplace itself. This was no token ‘greening’, the garden was seen by all the staff in the building and the design brought the further landscape of trees and fields into the workplace.
In his notes Russell states that ‘the architect’s instructions were that planting should be informal and romantic with great masses of plants tumbling over the terrace edges.’ Later it was suggested that the hanging plants were damaging the aluminium cladding but other experts suggest that it was a lack of building maintenance that caused the deterioration. (AJ December 1985)
The choice of plants for the conditions was the responsibility of Russell and he was exercised by the problem of wind damage. As a solution he proposed planting much more closely together than normal in order to make a tight wind-proof block. The shallow depth of soil on the terraces inspired new ideas on environmental sustainability; harvesting and recycling rainwater was fundamental to the design and rainwater was stored in a massive tank in the basement of the building before being returned to the plants through a system of sprinklers.
There is no access to level 2 but it can be viewed from above and it is the heart of the design. It comprises a pond set in a surround of shingle and planted with azaleas and hydrangeas. Level 3 is the main lawn where Russell planted large shrubs and trees such as hornbeam, cherries, birch and mountain ash. There are several conifers, all firmly bolted into the roof itself for support from the wind. At higher levels the planting is on the south and east-facing terraces, all accessible from the offices – each level is themed mainly by colour. On level 4 are the wisteria and vine terraces. The wisteria is not flourishing, the soil is impoverished and several plants have died completely. The vines have been more successful and the golden colour blends well with the bronze cladding of the building. Level 5 is one of the larger terraces, its grassy lawn smoothly unites the two wings of the building and the shrubs, planted to disguise the railings, provide colourful interest. The south-facing section is planted with bronze and gold foliage plants with acers providing both colour and height. Originally golden hops scrambled up the walls supported by netting, but this was a failure in the conditions and none remain. Silver trees and shrubs dominate the east-facing section and these have survived quite well: Pyrus salicifolia, buddleja, rosemary and caryopteris are thriving. The borders of the terraces beneath the railings have proved a problem for the gardeners; access is difficult, the soil is poor and many plants which have died have not been replaced. At the highest level 6 there are three small garden terraces – the Japanese garden, the Winter garden and the Herb garden. This level offers superb views into the entire garden space and also out towards the borrowed landscape of Eastrop and Riverdene. No other buildings interrupt the sylvan view.
At ground level Russell chose maple trees to provide a colourful avenue on the east side of the building while the forecourt and west side were planted with clumps of trees such as crab-apples, mountain ash and more maples. These are now mature trees and their canopies provide an important setting for the building itself. (Russell, notes for Sunday visitors c1978)
The Mountbatten/Gateway roof-garden has become an iconic symbol for Basingstoke, known as ‘the Hanging Gardens of Basingstoke’. It was designed during the austerity years of the 1970s when the concept of sustainability and low-energy factors were influencing new designs. As a stepped roof-garden it was the first of its kind in Britain and its architect, Peter Foggo of Arup Associates, repeated this style in his later buildings, notably in the City of London. Both the building and the garden have been cited in professional journals as exemplars of good design of that period. The eminent landscape designer James Russell advised on suitable planting for the shallow soil and exposed site. Remarkably, the garden has withstood the test of time and remains largely true to Russell’s ideals.
The garden was recognized as significant by the award of Grade II status by English Heritage in January 2015.
Mountbatten House is located in Basing View which is currently undergoing a long-term redevelopment programme by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council. The building was designed by Peter Foggo for Arup Associates. The garden takes the form of stepped terraces on five levels of the building. The ambitious planting was designed by James Russell and the roof structure was specially designed to support his wide selection of plants, shrubs and even mature trees, much of which is still extant. Mountbatten House was listed Grade II in January 2015; the roof garden was designated Grade II at the same time.
Research: EM Consultants, February 2010; updated by HGT Research Group in 2014 and 2015
Architects’ Journal Volume 166 (34) 24 August 1977 pp 343-358 J. Winter, Building Study
Architects’ Journal Volume 182 (50) 11 December 1985 pp 41- 47 S. Scrivens Landscape Management Gateway House
Arup Associates, Gateway 1: http://www.arupassociates.com/en/projects/gateway-house-1/
Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council; The Basing View Masterplan: http://red.capitasymonds.co.uk/1/properties/basingstoke/property/Documents/BasingViewMasterplanVisionFINALPRINT.pdf
The Victoria County History: http://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/explore/items/mountbatten-house-hanging-gardens-basingstoke-0
Peter Foggo Architect: http://www.foggo.com/practice/history
Russell, J. Wiggins Teape Ltd. The Gateway House. Notes for Sunday visitors. Basingstoke Public Library
:http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1422221 accessed 06/02/2015
Click here for the Historic England listing