The Quaich Project in Edinburgh: The Ross Pavilion and West Princes Street Gardens
Our entry to the Chaumont-Sur-Loire International Garden Festival was a chance to experiment with landscape architecture as an art form, reflecting on beauty, wildness, and environmental responsibility. Responding to the Festival’s theme, “Gardens of Paradise,” the WHY Landscape Workshop sought to challenge conventional otherworldly notions of paradise, exploring how landscape architecture can act to reveal the inherent beauty of the world around us. As such, the garden became a test site for ideas which inform WHY’s large-scale public landscape projects – what if natural beauty could be reframed as inherently radical, inspiring a vision of what’s worth preserving?
The garden expresses both the power and fragility of such beauty, lightly symbolized in the form of a cloud-like canopy of white feathers. As Charles Darwin observed in his notebooks, feathers are a mysterious natural phenomenon – perfectly suited to their purpose, yet with a beauty which exceeds simple functionality. Feathers seem to embody an ideal of “design,” expressing both aesthetic and pragmatic values. They are watertight, insulating, and act to filter UV rays – an ideal material for a floating canopy. As a model of natural adaption, feathers also prompt the question of whether human beings can adapt to the current ecological crisis; the canopy is both a celebration of beauty and an implicit warning, hovering above our heads as we traverse the garden.
As a down-to-earth paradise, the garden is an expression of the WHY Landscape Workshop’s principle of Art and Wilding, a subtle interchange between unchecked nature and human intervention. The planting scheme is designed with birds in mind – among the various species of birches, ferns, and grasses are edibles such as viburnums, blueberries and artichokes, attracting wild birds and pollinators. Small bird houses provide a space to nest, and the pond at the center of the garden is inhabited by two black swans – a whimsical narrative twist on beauty and peril.
Worn out scaffolding and recycled asphalt shape the structure of the garden, reimagining human action as a productive frame for natural flourishing. The space is, in its way, a utopian paradise, an ideal of what could be. But it’s also a wholly terrestrial zone, a place which feeds, protects, and reminds us of our shared responsibility for the planet we inhabit.
“Personal experience is stronger than threats and warnings, and immersion in a beautiful, fertile environment acts as a powerful motivator for environmental responsibility; we gravitate towards what we feel connected to and want to preserve, and the art of design is in facilitating a sense of connectivity and agency.”