Nigel Dunnett wins double Landscape Institute Award for game-changing urban planting

The Barbican Beech Gardens by Professor Nigel Dunnett

Professor Nigel Dunnett has won two awards, including the prestigious Fellows Award for Most Outstanding Project, at the Landscape Institute Awards in London. Professor Dunnett also walked away from the ceremony on 22nd November with the inaugural prize for Planting Design, Horticulture and Strategic Ecology.

Both prizes were awarded for phase 1 of the regeneration of The Barbican Beech Gardens and Barbican High Walk, which the judges said: “sets a new benchmark for the future of urban planting.”

The Fellows Award is chosen by the Fellows of the Landscape Institute for the most outstanding project from all the awards entrants and this year placed particular emphasis on well-being and projects that create healthy places. The judges said: "this project sets out to refresh the external podium garden in the Barbican High Walk, an area devastated by WWII that was redeveloped between 1960-1980. The planting offers seasonal change, dynamic colour and texture and greatly reduced water input.”

Nigel being presented with his award Nigel with 3rd years visiting the Barbican Gardens in November

“The project sets a new precedent for the adaptation and retro-fitting of post-war housing developments and offers residents visual interest and wellbeing benefits – much needed in this dense inner-city environment. The innovative design aims to create a landscape that is future-proofed and responds to the unique micro-climate issues of London’s Barbican.”

The planting design for The Barbican project has its origins in nearly two decades of research in the Department of Landscape Architecture. Nigel first undertook trials of green roof plants in 2001 and the results from this work led to the development of new plant mixes for low-irrigation and publicly accessible green roofs and roof gardens. These mixes have been used in a wide range of real projects, and the long-term monitoring of their performance has then led onto further refinement.

Two large European Union research grants - worth nearly £2million in total - enabled further development of green roof plant mixes and substrate formulations. Much of this work has been undertaken collaboratively with industrial partners, local authorities and developers.

Nigel said: “I am so excited to be given the Planting Design Award. It’s the first time that the Landscape Institute has had this category, so to be the first winner is very special. The plant mixes used in The Barbican are the direct result of research undertaken in the Department of Landscape Architecture, and their recognition by this award from the UK professional body for Landscape Architects is a wonderful expression of how landscape architecture research can have a major impact on real practice.”

Barbican Beech Gardens on a blustery day in November Miscanthus and Euphorbias amongst multi-stem Prunus

Professor Dunnett uses the Barbican Beech Gardens in his teaching in the Department of Landscape Architecture. In early November, he led a group of third year undergraduates taking the Green Infrastructure and Ecological Master Planning module to the site to explore how cutting edge planting design – learnt in the studio – can work in practice.

Adam White, President of the LI said: "the research and science that went into this project is something all landscape professionals should study."

Nigel added: "The initiative to put the new planting design category into the LI annual awards came from the President of the LI, Adam White, to raise the profile of and to highlight the importance of planting design in the landscape profession - something I’ve spent my whole career doing, and so this is a very gratifying award personally. And then to be given the Fellows Award was an amazing surprise. It sends an important message that an ‘everyday’ landscape that focuses on integrating nature and greening at every opportunity into a very challenging and hostile urban environment is seen as a precedent for creating healthy places.”

Adrian Wikeley, Chair of the Landscape Institute College of Fellows said: "the Fellows Award is presented to an entry that provides a better understanding of how healthy places can be created while also delivering improvements in health. Beech Gardens shows how urban interventions can contribute to the health of society with their response to micro-climates and innovative planting."