An exhibition at The Garden Museum, Going Green In The City: From Garden City To Green City, traces the changing green landscape of the English city. From the beginnings of the ‘green city’ movement it follows its course over the last 150 years – from a nostalgic glance at the burgeoning urbanism of the 19th century to the current visions of designers and communities who are reconnecting the city with the seasonal cycles of nature.
The founding of the museum in 1977 saved its present home, the church of St Mary at Lambeth from demolition and the garden museum and tranquil gardens are a green haven. The exhibition looks to the immediate area of Lambeth to demonstrate London’s transformation from a series of village settlements through agriculture, industry, and the rise of urbanism.
An insight into the tree planting rites and holidays of the inhabitants of the first garden city at Letchworth sets a course through the post 1945 new towns and the development of London estates such as Neave Brown’s Alexandra Road in Camden, which provided every household with a patch of outside space, despite its density. Atmospheric photographs of the lightly tended gardens that grew with great success in the ruined bombsites of the city offer a glimpse of a London in harmonious dialogue with nature, whilst the recent drawings of Wieland Payer depict London’s iconic modernist architecture overrun by greenery and the image of a post-urban world.
The exhibition offers glimpses of unexpected rural moments in the modern city presented through books, artworks, photographs, design drawings, maps, diagrams and films collected from a range of sources. These include a mature forest amidst the concrete slabs of Elephant and Castle; Ed Wall’s Roaming Forest; and the ’meanwhile’ garden opportunistically making the most of stalled planning in Dalston. These ideas demonstrates ways in which the very spaces and fabric of the city can be employed to feed its inhabitants, and to absorb and limit the pollution it creates. International projects from practices such as Triptyque, MVRDV and Fielden Clegg Architects display a promise of grass roots concerns gaining greater gravitas amongst the visions for our future cities.
As the exhibition points out, there is no particular point in London’s development that we can look back to as the perfect balance of nature and human endeavour. Rather than proposing a model from times past the exhibition looks to the future and asks “whether our current enthusiasm for eco-living and seasonality can make a lasting change?”
Going Green In The City: From Garden City To Green City. The Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Rd, London SE1 7LB. T: 020 7401 8865. Until 1st April 2012.
Images: Harmonia 57 office in Sao Paolo by Triptyque. Courtesy of Nelson Kon; Temple I by Wieland Payer, 2011, Lithography. Courtesy of The Garden Museum.