Demonstrating that landscape design can tell powerful stories, Saga has a new setting for its headquarters that expresses the holiday company’s commitment to being a member of the community. As a long-established and large employer in Folkestone, Saga wanted the landscape around its new Michael Hopkins-designed HQ to become a community asset, a new open and inviting public space. ‘Saga wanted to give something back to the area,’ says Tom Lonsdale. ‘This was matched by a bold attitude to security, which places emphasis on people being seen rather than excluded, so walls and entrance features have been designed to invite people to cross the threshold.’
The new HQ offices and an accompanying amenities building have been built on a large and sensitive coastal site of around 7ha, formerly occupied by a grand Victorian mansion.
Camlin Lonsdale was among the designers shortlisted by the Hopkins partnership for consideration by Saga. The team arrived at a site which was an unpromising, overgrown tangle of woods with an area of lawn. But first impressions were deceptive. ‘When we started to unpick what was there, we found a kaleidoscope of elements that we were able to accentuate to give the site character and meaning,’ says Lonsdale.
The land had to work in different ways. ‘It had to be a garden for the employees, a park for the neighbourhood and a corporate headquarters. The design was conceived as a sequence of spaces, starting at the entrance with a grassy area very much like a village green, which immediately set the tone of openness.’ Along the western edge of the site, footpaths were opened up along a stream and a long-defunct ornamental pond and cascade were restored.
Large areas of woodland were protected and remain intact, but an overgrown area at the back of the site was cleared for car parking. ‘In the early stages of the design, the architects had threaded parking around protected trees and through a large portion of the site. Our idea was to bite the bullet and clear paddock-like areas that would contain the spread of cars. This proved to be consistent with its historical use: we discovered that there was an area called Donkeys Field at the back of the site which made ideal parking space,’ says Lonsdale. A further area of trees was cleared beside the beautiful fabric-roofed amenity building to make a wild flower meadow.
Camlin Lonsdale also worked on the planting scheme. ‘Because the buildings are so strong, the planting was dictated by the site rather than the architecture. For example, at the entrance there were large evergreen oaks growing in very well-drained soil, giving the place a Mediterranean feel, which we mixed with the maritime setting, planting silver leaf plants that would thrive in that environment. Closer to the main building, fairly traditional perennial borders sit snugly in their curtilage, and there is more modern planting around the amenity building.’