In 2015, we joined forces with Architecture 00. Together, we enjoy collaborating in a shared environment where strategic, urban and social designers, architects, programmers and economists practice design beyond its traditional borders. 00 work with individuals, governments, corporations and communities to solve problems and anticipate change, and to design successful platforms and places. As a studio it aims to reach beyond the design of objects themselves to the social, economic and environmental systems behind them.

St Pancras Church Garden

St. Pancras Church Garden marks the site of St. Pancras Church, a late 11thCentury church destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and never re-built; today only the foundations remain. We were invited by the Street Scene team at the City of London to propose a scheme that would make use of this long-forgotten space, now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, in a way that responds to and respects its extraordinary heritage.

We saw this site as a little portion of something very different from its surroundings. The height of the buildings, the lack of sunlight, the vigorous ivy rummaging along the ground and clambering up the tall reaching trees give it the characteristics of a woodland. 

The site is also tucked away, away from the busy city hubbub and has more the quality of an interior than an exterior: from within it you can look out at the city fabric through the trees as if from within a softly furnished room.

Our proposal imagines that this safe, protected space, left alone for almost 350 years, has allowed St. Pancras Church to grow a new shoot and re-emerge as an untrimmed and happily rambling new pew-species. Like fire ephemerals (plants that flower only after being burnt) the lost church has renewed itself and, a little wildly, become overgrown. Situated just minutes from the Bank of England, the curiously quiet and protected pocket is bounded on three sides by tall buildings and accessible only from Pancras Lane.

Our design comprises stone paving and carved wood arranged in an irregular herringbone pattern,  which weaves around diamond-shaped plant beds and existing mature trees, with the carved wood elements rising to become seats. Each of the eight unique designs depicts patterns and animals that take their cue from the carvings of surviving Romanesque churches, with a contemporary twist.  The nature of the collaboration with historic carvers at City & Guilds Arts School has afforded a strong sense of individual craftsmanship to be expressed in the furniture.

Through extensive research into the site, we were so enamoured by its unusual boast as a space left almost entirely untouched since medieval London crowded around it, we felt our project should somehow hark back to those times. We developed a narrative that imagines a continuation of events following the fire, which can be read in full to your left.

Today, below the surface of St. Pancras Church Garden are the remains of the medieval church and its associated burials. The site was partly excavated by the Guildhall Museum in 1963, at which time the burials appear to have been removed. Remnants of the church itself lie just below the surface below the modern churchyard and as such any development could not have an impact on or disturb the remains.

The playful and sensitive qualities of the design have allowed the garden to capture the sense of stumbling across a hidden treasure in the middle of the City. 

…they locked everything up. They boarded and barricaded and bolted until it was sealed tight. Then they put up around it those particular kinds of mirrors that show not what is opposite them but what would be behind them, if the thing they were concealing weren’t there. The effect was flawless. From whichever angle you approached, you could not see the mirrors, only a scruffy, unremarkable little yard.

The fire had burnt everything completely. I don’t remember it of course, I was too young. Though sometimes I imagine I can remember: remember myself being carried through the streets, looking over a parent’s shoulder at the hot destroying sweeping away from me. But this is impossible. It wasn’t until later when I had grown up into the life I would remember, that people told me the stories I invented these memories from. They spoke of how the fire was the end of four long seasons that had ended by flood, earthquake, wind, and then fire; and how the fire marked the new beginning from which everything would now repeat itself.

They spoke of new opportunities and new chances, and made plans of how everything would be perfect and all mistakes corrected. There was much discussion of plants and trees that grew back thicker and faster after fire, and rumours about kinds of trees that flowered only after they had burnt. This is what happened. Everything grew back thick and fast and soon the place locked inside mirrors was surrounded: a pocket of apparent space in a sturdy new bustle.

For a while it seemed that some people knew it wasn’t really an empty space. I saw them walk along the street, usually quietly and alone, with a letter under their arm that they would post between the invisible cracks. They would pause for a moment there, then walk on, heavier and lighter at the same time. But they came less and less frequently, and eventually never at all. Meanwhile, the streets and the buildings were busy becoming mixed with the hills around them. The hilltops grew softer and rounder as they dusted themselves over the streets, while the streets climbed up the hills and looked back over themselves in triumph. I eventually concluded that I was the only one left who knew that the mirrors were there.

After a long time, I was proved wrong about this. One day, long, long after anyone had posted a letter there, some men came and looked at the mirrors. They seemed to me to be looking at the mirrors, rather than at the images they were showing. I was excited, but I also felt protective of the pretend space, so kept a close watch on the men. They came several days in a row with different tools and equipment and strategies. They knocked in methodical horizontal lines, as if looking for a secret passage. They bought glass cutters and suckers and tried to use them in mid air. They even brought some opera singers and had them sing loud high notes in the hopes of shattering the mirrors. Word spread that there was some kind of performance festival going on and small crowds would gather to watch the singers and “mime artists”.

It seemed they wouldn’t succeed and perhaps soon give up, until one day a letter fell out of a man’s pocket, fell inside the space and disappeared. When he saw what had happened the man called over to his colleagues who all crowded about the thin slot that had appeared where the letter had fallen. I couldn’t see what was inside as they blocked my view, but they were very excited and about to squeeze through the slot when it closed up. They spent the rest of the day trying to prise it open but with no luck. The next day they came back with everything from crow bars to tweezers and set back to work. The man with the letter was late that day, and when he eventually arrived he looked tired and bruised, as if he hadn’t slept. His colleagues took a break from their efforts and asked him the matter. He told them that the letter he had lost into the crack and been for his wife. He had spent all night trying to re-write it but it kept coming out wrong. He sat down, clearly exhausted. One of the men sat down next to him and asked him in what way it had come out wrong. The letter writer paused, then said quietly that the letter had contained some white lies, but when re-writing the letter, he could only write the truth. The men were all astounded and as a group all leaned back and tilted their heads. The man sitting next to the letter writer counselled his friend to tell his wife the truth, while another of the men walked away from the group. He tore a page from his notebook, scribbled something on it and pressed it against the mirrors: it fell inside. “It eats lies!” He shouted.

I realised that this was what people must have been doing before when they posted their letters. They were writing down lies to protect themselves from telling them. I imagined this could be quite helpful. The men certainly found it helpful in getting through the mirrors. They tore up their notebooks and posted copious lies to keep open a doorway through which they could easily pass. They took blankets in through the doorway, and brought out bulky things wrapped in the blankets and took them away. Day after day they came back and took out larger and larger things while I grew increasingly concerned. This didn’t seem fair, these secret thefts, but there was nothing I could do, unless I could break the mirrors once and for all and expose whatever it was inside to be shared by all. I worried, of course, that these things were dangerous, which was why they were taking them away, but the men didn’t wear any protective clothing, and I was confident I was recognising mounting greed in their activities.

I needed a plan. What could break open the mirrors completely? Perhaps a tremendous lie? Perhaps a fire? Perhaps a lie that turned out to be the truth? I was gazing towards the mirrors contemplating this one evening after the men had left when I noticed a little bird appearing and disappearing, passing back and forth as if the mirrors didn’t exist for it. It was a very young bird, flying saggingly as if only just learning. I saw this was my opportunity and coaxed the little bird over with some bread. I wasn’t sure why it could cross the boundary. Perhaps because it was a bird? Perhaps because it was so young? Perhaps because it couldn’t lie? Perhaps, as a young bird that cannot lie, if it posted a lie, the mirrors would break? It was worth a try, I thought, so I took a tiny scrap of paper and wrote “The Sky is Green” and tied it to the little bird’s ankle. After finishing the crumbs, the bird took wobbly flight again, and meandered homewards. I held my breath.

As it approached the mirrors, I thought I saw a flash, like lightning that might have been a blink, then it passed through and disappeared. For a moment nothing happened, then slowly the image of sky in the mirrors turned green as algae, revealing the outline of the locked shape for the first time. The algae sky wrinkled and bumped then suddenly fractured with the sound of a heavy drop of water onto a perfect sheet of glass. The shattered glass held its form for a second then went crashing in on itself, not to the floor but to a point in the absolute centre of the space. Shards zoomed inwards and vanished. At first it was almost too fast to see then it slowly slowed until, just before the last parts were lost, came to a halt. A sparkling, fragile mass tinklingly hovered, calmly casting soft pads of light this way and that around it.

The pads shone on the walls of the buildings, on the street and pavement, on the trees in the little yard, and on the rambling, thriving world below. All the while the mirrors had been hiding the space, the burnt remains had sprouted a new shoot and re-grown, untrimmed, happily rambling like ivy. Its leaves were of wonky boards nestled together their faces up toward the sun, and like the tree that blooms after fire, this strange plant had blossoms of decorated furniture, looping and bounding in whichever way they please…