The University of Cambridge Department of Architecture and Cambridge University Library ran an open ideas competition to suggest a new landscape setting for Giles Gilbert Scott’s 1934 library building. The building has become surrounded by a sea of tarmac and car parking, which diminishes the significance of the building within its historic setting.


Our entry began with the idea of a Jurassic wilderness. We were struck by the weight and mass of Scott’s structure – the power station aesthetic, strong symmetry, monumental plinth – we instinctively wanted to soften it with a tangle of naturalistic landscaping.


While researching the building we were struck by the Art Deco ornamentation on the library’s portals and interiors – using stylised plant motifs within the decoration and details. We considered how we could use the planting in a decorative manner to create an organic threshold to the building using real plants instead of motifs as the decoration. From the decoration around the portals we created a loose organisational system for the planting, leading visitors to the library on an informal journey of discovery towards the library threshold.


This was one project which really came alive at presentation, and we made large-scale models in lieu of drawings, planting them with vintage figures (from the library’s own collection) and real herbs so that they appealed to an unexpectedly broad range of senses.


Winner of the public vote, our design handed back the space in front of the library to the public, creating places to stop, learn and exhibit


The concept developed through reverse engineering the building’s ornamental floral motifs back into living plants.


The competition was organised over 2 stages, our long-listed entry to the competition replaced the cars and eroded the dominance of the building’s plinth with a Jurassic wilderness.


The existing landscape is dominated by a sea of car parking and the library’s imposing plinth