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Digging deep for ideas

By Ruth Slavid
An ideas competition inviting entrants to look at the potential for worked out quarries showed just how much can be done once they are regarded as an opportunity and not an eyesore.

On our small island, we are realising increasingly that we need to make every inch of our land work harder, ideally doing not just one thing well but several. We cannot afford to waste old and scarred sites by simply ‘reinstating’ them in an unimaginative way.

This was the thinking behind a competition that Worcestershire County Council ran, asking entrants to look at ways of giving new life to an imaginary former sand and gravel quarry. Entrants were asked to look at a quarry that was in the West Midlands and within the Green Belt. It had good access to an A road, had a public right of way on its western boundary, and was near to a large town. The aim of the competition was to look at maximising the potential of restored quarries, so that they can contribute better not only to the social and recreational life of their area but also to the long-term economic and environmental sustainability.

Questions asked included: How can they be designed to be more easily managed? How can a wider range of uses and activities be encouraged to make use of them? How can they be converted from being the after-effect of extraction into economically viable and self-sustaining systems?

Entrants were asked to look at the best way to turn disused quarries into a mult-functional resource, to ‘send their realistic ideas for the restoration and after-use of an imaginary sand and gravel pit to inspire actual restorations in future’.

The judges were:
• Sue Illman, Illman Young;
• Jane Patton, recently retired as the landscape architect for Worcestershire,
• Mark Stefan, director of design with Nature, and a Woodland Creation Champion for the Woodland Trust;
• Sheila Blagg, councillor, Worcestershire County Council.

There were two joint winners, and also a second-placed and fourth-placed project. Sue Illman said, ‘I’m something of a novice about quarries, but seeing the quality in the good schemes wasn’t hard to do.’ The entries show just how much of an opportunity a former quarry can offer, once you stop thinking of it as a blot on the landscape and instead appreciate the dramatic topography and the opportunity to create a wide range of habitats.


Joint first

Triatum Leisure Complex by Landscape Matters
The name of this project is an abbreviation of ‘Triple Stratum’ to reflect three distinct but inter-connected layers that would divide the quarry vertically.

They are:
  • An upper stratum of retained sand cliffs, circular permissive paths linking to the existing footpath, a new main entrance drive with coach drop off and emergency and farm access tracks;
  • A middle stratum consisting of a circular visitor centre and associated car parking that overlooks a range of habitats – heathland, grassland and stone roof gardens;
  • A lower 'outside in' covered stratum where a variety of active and passive leisure activities can take place (for instance there will be the longest go-kart track in the UK). All this will be surrounded by a dry and wet acid grassland habitat as well as amenity turf, specimen trees and shrubs. This project makes excellent use of the three-dimensional nature of the site, and provides a very wide range of habitats.


Joint first

Human Touch by One Creative
This proposal, which was straplined ‘Recognising the past – Realising the future’, took a very sculptural approach to the quarry, creating ‘land art fingerprints’ that would be colonised by pioneer species. Other features include a number of natural swimming pools and heated pools and a central activity centre that would house the changing rooms but could also be used for conferences, catering etc. While this approach has an ecological component in terms of creating a number of species-rich habitats, its primary focus is on being a superb and unusual visitor attraction, both for those who participate in the watery activities and those who come to watch.

The design team was undaunted by the fact that many such disused quarries are in fact dry – this was after all an ideas competition, and the ideas are abundant and engaging.


Second

Munro + Whitten

This ambitious proposal makes maximum use of the sculptural form of the quarry to create an exciting new park comprising both active and passive landscapes. In addition to a visitor centre, which incorporates a hotel, with conference centre adjacent, the park has an outdoor events arena and stage, an ‘extreme canyon’ with zip wire, a sky bridge which oversails the park offering views into the play zones and landscaped gardens.


Fourth

UBU

UBU's approach was completely different. Instead of looking primarily at drawing visitors, this scheme is all about production – of food and also of energy. It includes a series of fish ponds, with the fish fed with insects reared in a special facility. There is a also a vertical 'salad wall'. The salads will be fed by waste from the fish ponds, and any waste that the growing process produces in its turn will be fed into a digester and used to produce heat and electricity.

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Comments

Posted by David Brittain CMLI, Chris Davenport CMLI, Alex Pick CMLI, Georgina Watkins CMLI, Alison Wise CMLI, Andrew Woolley CMLI - September 2nd, 2016
While this article looking at an ideas competition was interesting and thought provoking, the underlying premise that current quarry restoration is basically boring and unimaginative is both inaccurate and dismissive of the very good work that has been carried out over a number of years by many landscape professionals. In the real world, the examples shown in the article would have very little, if any, chance of ever being realised. That is fine for this type of conceptual exercise, but when the article says an aim of the competition was to explore 'how restored quarries can be designed to be more easily managed', those of us who actually work in the industry and deal with these issues all the time know that the entries generally didn't excel themselves in that department. The lack of acknowledgement for the positive aspects of good quality quarry restoration was disappointing but sadly only to be expected from a profession who have regularly misunderstood and underappreciated this type of landscape work. It is hoped that we may have a chance in a future edition of Landscape to put the other side of the story and prove that good quality landscape design and planning in relation to quarry restoration is alive and well after all.

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