20 years in Outerspace1st April 2022
This blog summarises the story of my journey from setting up Outerspace on a dining room table in 2002 to becoming a successful business by 2022.
Please read the accompanying brochure, attached at the bottom of this page) which provides a full and open account of the achievements, the celebrations, the continued development of our design approach and technology embraced, but also the challenges that were faced, with lessons learnt along the way.
In the early years I explored all my previous contacts, mainly consultants and ex-colleagues. I developed a good relationship with both Urbed and Arup Planning, using my Urban Design skills to provide a range of town centre regeneration strategies across the UK. These were effectively based upon a single day visit to each town and largely by initial hunch identifying key regeneration sites and recommending appropriate development uses to enhance the pedestrian footfall through the town.
Crucial to each strategy was my concept of the ‘Lily Pad’ whereby you create a series of nodes and spaces to encourage and entice movement through a town. You hear this phrase used regularly now in the placemaking and regeneration sector, but to this day I still don’t know if I was the first to adopt it?!
Some of these town centre studies led to further commissions on providing urban design guidance for particular sites, including Design Codes on streetscapes and building massing.
Whilst the first four years were largely spent working effectively on my own with a series of freelance consultants assisting me, the next four years transformed Outerspace from ‘I into we’ and the team was born! Indeed a couple of major commissions such as the Brighton Marina Regeneration Project (landscape design) and the Preston City Centre Office Quarter (urban design) allowed me to take on full time employees.
A relatively small but enjoyable project was the design and technical delivery of a public space in Chelmsford town centre, Grays Brewery Yard. Using a simple flooring of the beautiful Italian granite Porphyry, we designed a piece of public art as the focus of the space. The sculpture represented the historical uses of the site, replicating ‘exploding beer barrels’ in a way that could be utilised for socialisation.
Towards the end of this period we were hit by a pretty bad recession which knocked me and the company back personally and financially respectively. But coming through this we did have moments of pleasure, including our appointment by the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames to write the public realm design brief for the Ancient Market Place. This being so local to our practice and a place we knew so well, we over and beyond to provide a really comprehensive set of design principles, from the bigger picture down to detail. For this piece of work we were Highly Commended in the Landscape Institute Awards 2011.
Within this period a few signature projects came into the office, namely Heathside and Lethbridge (Parkside) and Greenwich Square. These schemes provided work over many years to come, both in design and technical delivery. We were also appointed on a series of school project bids with Bouygues. So with the increasing workloads I was able to bring in new staff including Matt Ellins and Nick Willmore who quickly became a big part of the team.
The Parkside Lewisham estate regeneration scheme for Peabody has been a great celebration of our ‘Design through Dialogue’ community engagement tool, consulting with the residents phase by phase, culminating in the design and delivery of a central park feature, presently in construction.
Maple Quay Canada Water was also built out, comprising of landscapes at every level: streetscapes at ground level, communal podium gardens, roof gardens and a sky terrace.
Our main publicity came through the completion and grand opening of the Greenwich Square piazza. A great project for us including the design and technical delivery of the bespoke furniture and public art sculpture.
The New Festival Quarter project was also delivered including a Church Green for the wider community. It was at this point that we started auditing the success all the high density residential projects that had been completed and occupied, including interviewing residents and estate managers.
Analysing the lessons learnt from auditing our high density residential projects, we began to fully understand why some schemes were successful in terms of usability and popularity, and others not so. Our biggest finding was that we needed to promote the connectivity of people and biodiversity, hence ‘Human-Nature’ together with the concept of ‘hygge’ or comfort in the spaces.
The Moretown office campus enhancement certainly focussed on connecting humans and nature within a soft and comforting setting, a far cry from the cold and grey environment before our involvement.
The Courtyard at Greenwich Square was the first residential project where we put into practice the lessons learnt, providing a lush green perimeter to offer comfort, into which a series of play and amenity gardens were created.
The communal garden within The Levers in Southwark offers an intimate sanctuary for the residents to enjoy looking down on or meeting friends and neighbours.
London Dock is a high end urban residential scheme. Inheriting a planning scheme, we quickly recommended the intensification of planting to soften the experience and create comfort.
Manor Park was a really successful project utilising our ‘Design through Dialogue’ engagement tool, enabling the community to write a design brief for their park. Outerspace subsequently drew up the masterplan vision to help the stakeholders apply for funding.
Becoming a net zero studio in 2021 was a huge achievement. However we recognise that the planetary impact of our landscape projects far outweighs our in-house carbon footprint. Therefore in 2022 and beyond we are committed to a three prong drive: that to promote a genuinely sustainable approach to our practice, our projects and our profession.
Whilst in Outerspace we will continue to promote and develop both our design creativity and design approach to connect ‘human-nature’, we will strive to embrace climate change positively. This will be based upon a genuine pledge to reduce our carbon footprint as a practice, the projects we are involved in, and within the Landscape Architecture profession.
Promoting the Circular Economy: The built environment sector uses more resources and throws away more waste than any other. We only have one earth. The linear economy which our sector largely operates within is fundamentally unsustainable.
A circular economy built on the principles of reuse, refit, repair, refurbish, reclaim, and retain, keeps materials at their highest value for as long as possible and decouples growth from resource use. Taking a firm stance in promoting these principles could well lead to some tough decisions about the clients and projects we work with and on but that is what the future holds for Outerspace.
To read our journey in more detail you can download our 20th Anniversary brochure here: 20 years in Outerspace