right plant right place

Right Plant, Right Place

Welcome to our five part blog series; Right Design, right place.

You’ve all heard the phrase ‘right plant, right place’ well this applies to all sorts of design aspects so, in a play on words we thought we would pick some key design aspects and write a series of short blogs exploring their use in our design work. Starting with of course;

Right plant, right place.

We all have our preferences when it comes to plants. We all know the style of garden we would like and whether it’s a foxglove or a fern that we are most drawn to. What we are beginning to understand about this now is that our affinity with plants stems from our childhood. We are much more likely to crave and enjoy now, environments which brought us pleasure as a child and this includes the natural world. Increasing research is beginning to emerge about the link between memory of nature as children and our connection to it as adults, so it follows perhaps that our plant choices too could begin there. Certainly, much of the health work we do here at Studio 31 stems around this idea that greater engagement with a space and improvements to wellbeing are often seen when a person is more familiar with the plants, materials and environments therein.

Plants need many things to flourish; a combination of the right soil, light, temperature, moisture and pH as well as things like shelter and of course the right context and character of a place. There was a trend back in the 1970s to bring in new soil to change the environment people wanted to grow in and thus hopefully create optimal conditions for your favourite species. Developing science into soils over the intervening years has seen that long term it is unlikely that this strategy will yield the results you hoped for. Our experience has found that, in fact, it is possible to achieve the look (and better) that you hoped for by choosing plants which suit the environment rather than changing the environment to suit the plant.

An example of this is the dry garden that Beth Chatto is now renowned for. The conditions of this garden (which was once a car park) were such that nothing else would grow and the low rainfall meant she had to adapt her original strategy to planting. By embracing the conditions she was presented with, she created one of the most interesting and unique gardens in the UK and is held as both an industry exemplar and extraordinary plantswoman by peers and academics alike.

Often people feel that it is their poor skill at gardening or just a particular plant that “they can’t get on with” but that age-old adage “if you ask a fish to climb a tree…” comes to mind. It isn’t you and it isn’t the plants, it’s the environment. A good designer will know this and will have the horticultural knowledge to specify plants that will not only achieve the look and feel you desire but will also flourish and complement the architecture and wider setting.

The diversity of the natural world is such that you can almost always find a plant to suit the end goal and what you might find is that if you let it, your garden (and your designer) might surprise you.



Photo credit Andrei Slobtsov

Could freelance landscape architects help build collaboration in the industry?

Creating a collaborative future in the landscape industries?

As a practice, Studio 31 is built on the strength of our relationships. These might be with clients, architects, suppliers or contractors, all essential in the smooth running of our practice and achieving the best outcomes for our projects. So too though are the relationships we hold with other landscape professionals and this got us to thinking about the shape, form and provenance of these relationships.

When we set up Studio 31, like anyone setting up a business, it was a risk. We had a vision, we believed in that vision and we knew the skill sets of the core team here were strong but no matter the strength of your component parts there is always that worry about your first project coming in.

Around this time, another local landscape architecture practice offered us some freelance work. We tentatively accepted this and the fruits of that alliance were many. For them, they could employ reliable and experienced landscape architects to work on their projects. They could meet the demands of a busy time in their project calendar whilst not having to take the financial risk taking on a new member of staff. For us it gave the opportunity to subsidise the income of our fledgling business whilst developing greater specialist skills and knowledge in an area of landscape architecture our business wasn’t focussed on. Fortunately for us, our business took flight quickly and our freelance work came to a mutual end but long term (and perhaps more importantly), we had also nurtured a new professional relationship.

Why are we telling you this? Well as a now established practice, we have taken this experience forward and now give other freelance designers a similar opportunity. As an example, we currently have a part-time freelance designer whose experience and expertise complements those skills we have in house and he can draw from our practice focus on health and sustainability whilst he sets up his own innovative new practice.

There is much scepticism in relation to employing freelance designers; the risk of being able to find a good one, cynicism around the rationale for their freelance work and concern regarding short notice periods and protection of work. Our experience though has been a positive one. Sure, there are contracts in place and the necessary documentation but there is also mutual trust and respect. There is the sharing of knowledge and experience. The opportunity to gain a new perspective on our practice vision and build mutually beneficial relationships.

Because of our connections with freelance work old and new, we have built lasting relationships with landscape professionals and we are able to both draw on each other’s knowledge and experience and also, at times, share work between us. We have been involved in receiving work that is outside the remit of other practices, passing on work which is not within the vision of ours and joint tenders to win projects which would benefit from collaborative innovation. Hopefully too, we have helped support other professionals in their future career and been a catalyst in some imaginative and important visions for the future.

With the president of the landscape institute launching the #chooselandscape campaign earlier in the year, we wonder about the value of freelance work in encouraging people into the landscape architecture profession. Freelance opportunities have the potential to allow people to develop skills across the many varied disciplines of the sector and work alongside the passions and enthusiasms of a diverse range of practices. This route for some people allows them to not only develop a diverse skill set but also discover the area of landscape architecture which most appeals as a career pathway. At the same time, practices themselves can build relationships long term with other professionals who will go on to find careers in many different areas of the landscape industry from LA practices large and small to roles within private organisations and public bodies. Many of these practitioners are highly skilled and have substantial experience both here in the UK and internationally.

Of course, no freelance design team will ever compete with the many advantages of a core and close knit permanent team who have a shared vision and emotional investment in that practices’ future. However, with the economy ever uncertain, perhaps a move to collaboration rather than competition between landscape architecture practices could lead to a new kind of environment. An environment where practices can help and nurture each other through times of both abundance and hardship. An environment where creative and cooperative CPD programmes could be developed and best practice shared. An environment which supports people to take the next step in their career and an environment which values collaboration and makes that a part of the future direction of the landscape industries.


Landform; A diverse tool for landscape architects

Using Landform to create both the dramatic and the subtle

Following our recent visit to our amphitheatre project a year on from its installation, we wanted to take a moment to talk about landform in our design work.

Technically the definition of landform is “a natural feature of the landscape” and in a broader sense, encompasses a whole range of features from oceans and valleys to mountains and plains.

Landform in a design sense usually comes in the shape of earthworks and these have been used since ancient times with varying functions from creation of spaces for worship to burial grounds to defence structures. Many ancient landforms are of huge historical significance and have the power to both inspire and perplex us; one example being Silbury Hill in Wiltshire which is the largest man-made mound in Europe but whose purpose still eludes us.

Over time the use of earthworks within the landscape has evolved to become an essential tool of designers and landscape architects like Capability Brown and more recently Charles Jencks who both used the earth to sculpt many of their iconic landscapes. Today landform is used within design for many functions from boundaries and borders to sculptures and art forms.

Many of our schemes here at Studio 31 incorporate some form of landform, often taking inspiration from the surrounding landscape. One of our project sites borders an estuary and is protected from the tidal water by a large bank of soil acting as a sea wall. Our design reflects this dominant feature, using earthworks to both frame the breath-taking views whilst simultaneously protecting the site from the coastal winds which prevail upon it. This is a site of particular ecological sensitivity so the use of landform here has further benefits in maintaining a continuous wildlife corridor.

Other sites draw inspiration from the natural topography of the site. Many clients at first feel it is necessary to spend much of their budget levelling difficult sites but we look for ways to work with the natural landscape to create landform that works with levels rather than omits them. An example of this would be our terraced garden project which uses levels to complement a basement structure within the building whilst still showcasing the surrounding landscape.

In other cases, we have used landform as a sculptural element, creating entertaining spaces like our grass amphitheatre or more recently a moulded curve which will form the back drop for an impressive sculpture.


Landform remains a diverse tool at the fingertips of landscape architects with its effects within the landscape both dramatic and subtle, formal and informal, grand and humble. With health ever present at the forefront of our design work, it also allows us to retain the use of local and natural materials within a landscape scheme, creating impressive sites which are healthier for not only our clients but also the native flora and fauna which inhabit them.


Oldlands. A slower, simpler vision for landscape

Unguided exploration and red underwing moths

For us inspiration comes in many forms. It might be world acclaimed design practices or small community organisations. It might be a chance meeting with another like-minded professional or even the words of a primary school child. Whatever form it takes, our commitment is to leave ourselves open to find and admire the greatness in other people’s visions for landscape and the world around us. To be able to draw from that and to always yearn for more knowledge and understanding is the foundation of our work as landscape architects.

A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of staying at Oldlands. A family-run estate that captured not only our imaginations but also our hearts. The team at Oldlands put nature at the centre of everything they do. There are many places that claim to do this but it is the simplicity of Oldlands’ approach that is the triumph. Wayfinding takes on a different life here; there are no boardwalks or enforced circulation routes, instead unguided exploration and adventure are encouraged. There is a subtle feeling that if you were to be guided, you might miss something and in doing so, miss some of the valuable experience too. You are left to discover intriguing corrugated sheets that lift to reveal a toad or slow worm. Compasses and treasure maps replace the modern art of geocaching and home grown produce is offered in the form of a captivating honesty shop. A shop in which I’ll confess unashamedly to being frozen like a wide-eyed child in a sweet shop.

Piqued immediately by the wonders on our doorstep, we willingly agreed to a nature walk by third generation custodian Sam Bosanquet. He comes from a long line of naturalists and ecologists and his enthusiasm for the natural world can only be quantified by seeing him put a sweep net over his face to (successfully and without harm) retrieve a parasitoid wasp from within it.  He showed us swan mussels and otter faeces, a cobra lily and most magnificent of all, a red underwing moth.


Sam spoke eloquently of the family’s desire to restore the land slowly and with integrity. His plan to turn many of the fields back to ecology rich wildflower meadows is, like most things here, a slow one. He collects seeds from flowers found on the estate and sews only these, remaining as true as it is possible to be to the local ecosystem. This endeavour is in partnership with the Gwent wildlife trust who have their head office onsite and who manage some of the land here.  In true Oldlands style, the inhabitants of the wildlife trust were also only too happy to engage in unhurried conversation about wildlife conservation, the wonders of the natural world and spaniel ownership whilst we hijacked their outdoor coffee breaks.

Some might say that the ethos at Oldlands is to leave the landscape alone but they wouldn’t quite be right. The landscape here is managed, changing and evolving. It is the ‘how’ that is different. The choices are considered, the pace is slow and the changes happen simply and with integrity. I have said it many times before that if we do not connect to the land, we have no incentive to protect it, we have little understanding of the impact of it on our health or wellbeing and no perception of all the wonders it possesses.

Many places give over slow living as their ethos but few truly achieve it. The team at Oldlands have done just that. Things are slower here, simpler and more mindful. It’s a difficult thing to describe but it’s like they put the world on pause and have created a space where you can truly appreciate each moment, each sight, sound and smell.  Oldlands encourages connection; to flora, fauna, food and to each other. The lessons it has taught me have lasted well beyond my few days there and have further changed and developed my understanding and interaction with the landscape and the natural world. This in turn will make both our practice and our designs richer and more considered.

Driving away, I’ll admit to a lump in my throat and I think the source of that was this; What Oldlands has is absolutely everything you need and what Oldlands makes you realise is that it turns out what you need isn’t very much at all. I thought I already knew that. I actually had absolutely no idea.





(Feature image courtesy of Oldlands)



Autumn. Take time to watch the leaves turn. 

Albert Camus put it perfectly when he said,

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower”.

Bright sunny days painted the colours of fire and crimson meet with crisp winter skies that fill sporadically with murmurations of starlings and arrows of honking geese. Animals are busy underfoot in their preparations for winter and the pumpkins are finally almost ripe for carving. Our allotment haul of pumpkins may be the most impressive yet so colleagues have been forewarned of the abundance of soup headed in their direction (it could be worse than the courgette epidemic they’ve just endured).

This blog isn’t about design, planning permission, literature or research, it’s about Autumn. You can find it all around you, from impressive arboretums to humble street trees, in parks and playgrounds and woodlands. It’s under your feet and carried on the air. It is pumpkins and apples, falling seeds, migrating birds, fungi, crafts and campfires.

It happens every year but nature still never fails to amaze me in its ability to capture my attention and my imagination. I can’t help it when specifying a deciduous tree, that for me it isn’t thinking ahead to the blossom of spring that makes my heart sing most, it’s the colours of autumn that this addition will bring to a space.

All the seasons have their virtues but for me it is Autumn that has my heart. So, if you can make space to connect with nature this week, go and crunch the leaves, marvel at the colours and feel the early chill of the air on your skin because as Elizabeth Lawrence said; 

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn”

literary landscape

The Gibberd Garden; A literary landscape

Landscape meets literature

Those who follow us will know, we have long been fascinated with natures connection to the arts and a couple of weeks ago one of our directors engaged two of her passions for the natural world and the written word through an event at the Gibberd Garden in Essex. Here is what she learned.

Landscape has long been synonymous with the arts, inspiring some of the greatest paintings, sculptures and literature of all time. It is the canvas for our design work and the context of our designs and as such it is a true responsibility to shape it for future generations.

Art for me comes in the shape of language, both reading it and writing it (though I confess to be a novice at both) and I am not the first, nor will I be the last to combine literature with the natural world.

I have visited many places which were either the inspiration for or the writing place of many works of literature. From Virginia Woolf’s Sissinghurst garden to the Bloomsbury’s sets Grantchester Orchard. From the Yorkshire Moors which inspired Emily Brontë’s Wuthering heights to the compelling landscapes of the lake district which inspired many of Beatrix Potters classic tales but I had not, until now, associated the Gibberd Garden with works of literary genius.

The Gibberd Garden is an unusual place. Designed by Sir Frederick Gibberd, it is very much a personal garden and in some ways one which contrasted Gibberd’s work as a master planner and leading post-war architect. His profession required meticulous planning and attention to detail, consideration of how one space would work with the next and continuity across a city.

“Harlow was one of the first and most successful of the new town projects, being both relatively uncontroversial and unusually unified and architecturally distinguished in its physical plan”. (Aldridge, 1996: 32)

His work was unusual in its day because he designed it as a whole and saw ‘connection’ as an integral part of the success of the future town. He looked at connection both in relation to the interaction of the architecture but also the landscape; how the landscape moved between the buildings and how the town related to the surrounding countryside.

His love of landscape is echoed in his garden but replacing the practical and functional rationales driving his work as a master planner, he intended his garden to be a work of art. He viewed his garden, perhaps all gardens, as places of transience. Ephemeral and subject to constant change; apparently once stating that if his garden stayed the same beyond his years, he would be most aggrieved.

From a design perspective, the garden doesn’t stick to conventional design principles and yet what it has in abundance is character, personality and joy. It has been affectionately described as ‘landscape theatre’ and for me this captures its essence. The garden was never intended to be a homage to supercilious design but a reflection of the humour and charisma of one man and his affection for the landscape.

As such, this garden is a wonderous place of inspiration for a writer. It is filled with surprises, eccentricities, history, heritage and stories; the sculptures, each a piece of history themselves and a part of both Gibberd’s and the garden’s stories.

Feeling in myself an echo of the playful nature of Sir Frederick, instinct wove me down the garden to happen upon a fort, drawbridge and peter pan-esque ‘keep out’ sign. Overlooking this mischievous scene was a swing hung from an accumbent branch of a mature beech tree which intuitively became the starting point of my literary adventure.

My literary wanderings that day spanned giant’s pipes, rambunctious sweet shops and macabre ghost stories. All inspired by the vivacious landscape and its remarkable treasures. My prose however and that of my companions was animated only on the page. Our work as landscape architects carries a different weight. Whether we are inspired by the vast landscapes of Brown and Repton or the gentle musings of an individual client, our designs affect the landscape. They enhance it or scar it, evolve it or change it for the future and sometimes forever. There is a great responsibility in that. What we do as landscape architects, as designers, is akin to art. We are inspired by the landscape and use it as our medium, our ink and our inspiration. The landscapes we create have the power to conserve, preserve, facilitate and improve. And a garden like Gibberd’s reminds us of the many delicate and overlapping functions and forms woven into our roles as landscape architects and of the emotive power of the landscape to empower, revive and to inspire.

Literary Landscape

An anthology of some of the prose inspired by the Gibberd Garden will be curated later this year and will be on sale in their shop in the next few months.


The role of design in walkability of cities

Walkability and health.

It is recommended that for good health we walk 10,000 steps per day (Tudor-Locke and Bassett, 2004). However, since the 1970s the number of people walking has steadily declined both in frequency and duration. It is now estimated that the average time people spend walking per day is just ten minutes; at an average pace this is closer to 1000 steps and not enough to demonstrate measurable health benefits (unless of course we connect with nature in that time). A fifth of adults only walk for 20 minutes once per year (or less) and a sixth of children never walk for this long (DoT, 2013). A stark contrast to what would have been the walking habits of their parents and grandparents as children.

Many factors have perhaps contributed to this reduction in walking. Movement out of cities could be one, with statistics showing that residents of London walk 292 miles per year but rural people just 122 miles (Pretty et al, 2017). Within cities themselves, there are other factors though, not least the increase in use of technology both as a leisure activity and a form of social interaction.

We all know walking is good for us. Just some of the known benefits are increased mental health, decreased blood pressure and reduced obesity levels (thus a reduction of the associated medical conditions). The benefits of walking are not linked to health alone though. When we look at information regarding walkability of cities, we learn that in areas where walkability is better, house prices are higher, GDP is higher, the streets are safer, and people are happier. So why do we not walk more and could it be that design has a part to play?

In a world where there is increasing pressure on design practices to be “innovative” and remain “ahead of the trend”, there has, historically been a tendency to design only for modern life and convenience. But with the movement of health and well-being up the government agenda, there is increasingly more and more consideration for how we can not only facilitate people to walk but also connect with nature and green space in cities.

Daniele Quercia, founder of Happy Maps, supports the theory that convenience doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with health stating “being more efficient doesn’t necessarily make us happier”. He was responsible for designing an app with an algorithm to change the way that people navigate cities; Instead of simply looking for the fastest route from A to B his app found “the shortest route with the most emotional gain”. Discovering, through his work that architectural and natural features were significant factors in the benefit of the route. This emotional benefit of nature fits with the increasing theory linked to green exercise and the abundance of emerging theory relating to urban trees.

Science cites the benefit of trees to our cities as many and varied at both an economic and environmental level. And these benefits translate down to walkability scales too; urban trees provide shade, shelter and aesthetic benefits. They make navigating our cities on foot more practical, more appealing, healthier and a happier experience.

In terms of design considerations, there are practical implications of walkability too. Where design is focussed on easing the pressure of vehicular travel, pavements can often be narrow and poorly maintained meaning navigating by foot is difficult. To combat this, there is an increasing trend to specifying “shared-space” which advocates the design of streets so that vehicles and pedestrians move together across it with mutual consideration. This is, in theory, a good idea and has been successfully implemented in many cities across Europe but as with all new solutions can present its own design challenges. One concern for example, is with regard to accessibility; especially amongst people who are blind or partially sighted and who, without the use of pavements may feel at greater risk of isolation.

It is of course important that designers of today design for the modern world but with such a responsibility on our shoulders, should we also be designing for the modern and increasing health demands of people living in cities? If we, as designers can make a city more walkable, then we remove (at least some of) the barriers between a city-dweller and walking, thus make walking more desirable and more likely. There then comes with that the host of environmental, economic and health benefits that are scientifically linked to walking. National scale initiatives such as the national park city campaign are providing opportunity to push ideas like walkability in cities higher on the design agenda. The spaces between buildings could be designed not just to help move people between buildings but between green spaces and as part of a wider network of routes designed for walking, connecting and health.




DoT (2013) National Travel Survey. London: Department of Transport.

Pretty, J., Rogerson, M. and Barton, Jo. (2017) Green Mind Theory: How Brain-Body-Behaviour Links into Natural and Social Environments for Healthy Habits. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14: 706

Tudor-Locke C, Bassett DR (2004) How many steps per day are enough? Sports Med 34:1-8



Easton Walled Gard

Alone in The Easton Walled Gardens

A garden that tells a story of history, heritage and its future.

Creeping in through the tall heavy gate that guards the entrance, I’ll admit to feeling a little like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s heroine Mary discovering her Secret Garden for the first time. It isn’t revealed immediately; the garden comes to you in the shape of deep textural borders facing tall formal hedges which open to expansive views; a life size aerial map of the acres that the walls encase. Here, your feet are easily diverted by covert openings which reveal themselves surreptitiously from the corner of your eye. Like Alice and her rabbit hole, stepping curiously through one such opening, you are never quite certain where you will arrive, but it promises to be a fortuitous adventure.

It is difficult to describe the Easton Walled Gardens, they are, in parts, both flourishing and still developing but beyond the plant life or design, this place has a feeling. It is a feeling certainly amplified by the privilege of wandering these 12 acres in complete solitude and though no secret is made of the garden’s proximity to the A1, even that cannot diminish it. Perhaps Ursula Chomeley the garden’s owner, designer and curator describes it best;

“Despite the presence of modern life – the A1 rumbles along behind a belt of trees – this garden feels ancient, settled and full of atmosphere”

What this garden lacks and perhaps this is the route of its charm, is pretence. It is the product of its chequered history, both proud and humble. A once grand hall, Sir Henry Cholmeley bought the manor of Easton in 1592 and it was both a prominent and fashionable home but during the second world war, “it became home to units of the Royal Artillery and of the 2nd Battalion. During their stay, it suffered considerable damage and in 1951 the Hall (home to the Cholmeley family for 400 years) was demolished, never having been lived in as a family home again”.

The garden echoes this polar heritage with an unusual blend of formal lawns and topiary flanked by swathes of wildflower meadow and naturalistic planting. The borders and natural areas are a haven of wildlife; full with fat bumble bees and small white (Pieris rapae) butterflies. The River Witham too flows through the gardens, spring fed at this stage and not over managed so wildlife again is at home in its banks; native crayfish and trout have brought with them kingfishers and more recently, overwintering egrets.

Easton Walled Gardens

There are doors and gateways half opened which sneak up on you, dividing your desire to keep to your chosen path or divert lest you may uncover some other secret. Though the gardens are full of wonders, a yew avenue, immature orchards and mature trees, the greatest charm of all for me was the kitchen garden. One of the simplest reminders of the link between our lives and the natural world, I am always drawn to a kitchen garden. More than this though, where else would you find such a treasure that affords pleasure to all five senses? The impressive allotment at Easton does this in abundance. From amidst the vegetables, I found a narrow staircase adjacent to the potting shed (whose handmade decoupage sign darn near had me chopping up magazines to recreate it). The staircase led nowhere in particular but instead allowed you to rise over the shed roofline. It seemed intended to help guests admire the intricate lawn maze behind the building, but my gaze was drawn only across the kitchen garden. Lines of cabbages (astoundingly not devoured by caterpillars), lettuce, corn and leeks. Row on row of local produce which just like the rest of the garden here spans the ages; from cooks’ larder to war effort to natural supermarket for the Easton tearoom.

Easton Walled Gardens

Sometimes we walk in nature, tread paths through hills, fens or woodlands, usually open spaces that connect us with a wider wilderness. Rarely though, do we explore gardens in the same way, with the same spirit of adventure or childlike curiosity. Easton walled gardens not only allows you to do this, it asks you to do it. Too often, we walk around a space silent and critical of its design virtues or deficits, but this garden asks for more of an individual. It is ancient and contemporary, juvenile and established, The Easton Walled Gardens are a storybook, charting the history of this place, this landscape and this family; go without expectation and read what they have to say.


Easton Walled Gardens

Easton Walled Gardens


Penton Park

A family home and award-winning wedding venue.

Studio 31 were recently commissioned to design the landscape surrounding the wonderful Penton Park Country House and the magic of this place is so special we wanted to share a little of it with you.

The family who run Penton Park describe the house as a family home first and foremost and this probably defines all that this exceptional place is; warm, joyful and welcoming. Despite Penton having been in the family for generations, they continue to view themselves only as custodians of this home and see it as their responsibility to restore and conserve Penton for the future.

What makes Penton such a joy to design is it’s many faces. It is not only a family home but a quite spectacular and award-winning wedding venue, home to James’ Place which offers a unique environment for members of the disabled community to spend time, the occasional film or photography set location and most recently home to Penton Park Brewery; a microbrewery whose secret ingredient is the pure unspoilt drinking water running under the grounds of Penton Park itself.

The design and restoration of the building has been a painstaking process with the family’s attention to detail second to none. The most captivating thing about this house though, isn’t just the spectacular setting they have created but the way that the house flexes to each of its functions. There are secret stairways and unexpected doorways (utilising what would once have been the servants areas) which mean that the family are able to use the house at the same time as a wedding or function and a guest would never know they are there. They want to create the same with the landscape. They need a dynamic and intelligent landscape that creates spaces for the family to relax in whilst also complementing the architecture and sympathetically restored interior. Far from feeling restricted in their own home, they want the house to carry out its duel functions as a business and family home in tandem and for the children to feel free to run, play and enjoy the house as they would any other day. This is a wonderful design challenge to think in a new way about the connections and corridors between the landscape spaces. It is, of course, common for country houses to have hidden or concealed back areas or walkways historically for gardeners or staff to use but it is less common to make those spaces as beautiful and intriguing as the openly seen spaces. This landscape needs to create privacy and openness, intimacy and grandeur all at the same time.

Country Estate Hampshire

The formal areas need to be dynamic enough to cater for the needs of an adventurous toddler as well as sophisticated enough to host a bride and groom. They need to be inclusive, functional, beautiful and reflect both the heritage of the building but also the contemporary diversity of its functions.

With the family’s history and heritage wrapped up in the walls of this building, its restoration truly brings new meaning to “a labour of love”. The love of three generations working together has built Penton Park to where it is today, and we could not be more thrilled to be a small part of the next step of its journey.



For more information on this project, visit our portfolio or watch this space for design updates.

Photos courtesy of the team at Penton Park.


Natural World

Why ambivalence about the natural world needs resolution

How our day to day lives are intrinsically linked to the health of the natural world.

Since the dawn of time, nature has formed the basis for life on earth. The natural cycles of the earth are so perfectly balanced that one species’ waste product is another’s resource and so life on earth has been maintained in equilibrium for thousands of years. It’s no secret that human intervention has upset this balance and that we use far more and at a far greater pace than the earth is able to replace. It’s also no secret that as a species we are becoming more and more disconnected from nature and spending less and less time in its company. I spend time wondering then, if these two things are related; That many people have little or no awareness of the intrinsic link between our day to day technology driven lives and nature itself.  It’s easy to consider people’s lack of environmental action as driven by malice or malevolence but have we considered that it could be the product of unfamiliarity and ignorance?

This a blog, not for the environmentally conscientious but for the ambivalent. For those people who (perhaps fairly) ask the question “In this modern world, full of technology and convenience, how am I connected to nature?” The answers are many, these points are only few, but this blog is to help people consider how our existence as a species is tied inextricably to nature and how, put simply, ambivalence about its conservation needs resolution.


Perhaps the most obvious. All our food comes from nature or our manipulation of it. From large and small-scale farming to growing fruit and vegetables on our own allotments to foraging our forests and coast lines. Nature provides us with one resource we quite simply cannot live without; food.


If you’ve ever lived in a country like Australia or Africa or seen, on the news, the plight of the many millions of people in the world living in drought, then you have seen the devastating effects of water shortage. We can only live an average of three days without water and where do we get our water? Nature.


Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible.

The most obvious ecosystem services include the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines. There are also many less visible ecosystem services such as the climate regulation and natural flood defences provided by forests, the billions of tonnes of carbon stored by peatlands, or the pollination of crops by insects (NCF, 2018).

In 2014 the journal of Global Environmental Change revealed that the total value of the World’s ecosystem services amounted to twice as much as global aggregate GDP – as much as $124.8 trillion per year.


Throughout history, humans have used plants to treat all kinds of illness and disease. To this day a huge proportion of our modern medicines are derived originally from plants. Just two examples are Aspirin where the key ingredient comes from Willow Bark and Morphine which is derived from the Opium Poppy. Rather than a move to greater use of synthetic drugs, there is actually an increasing demand for medicines derived from more natural and environmentally friendly sources. There is a hope that increasing research into this area can develop new drugs that have more effectiveness and fewer side effects than most modern drugs. Here’s a paper worth reading on the subject.

Nature gives us the power to heal, to treat, to prolong life and to reduce suffering through modern medicine.

Wider health

There is a quickly growing body of evidence demonstrating the links between nature and health (this is our specialist area here at Studio 31). There’s evidence to suggest that we heal more quickly, get sick less and have improved mental health by being in regular contact with nature. Moreover, nature facilitates some of the most common ways of exercising; walking, hiking, running and cycling to name but a few. When we design for health we facilitate people to be able to interact with nature and therefore contribute to improved health, concentration, happiness and fitness.


You’ve probably heard the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. He argues that all of us, especially children, are spending more time indoors, which makes us feel alienated from nature and perhaps more vulnerable to negative moods or reduced attention span (Louv, 2009) The emergence of natural play spaces, den building, forest schools and garden classrooms are just some of the strategies being used to combat this disassociation with nature and help our children to thrive physically, socially, academically and emotionally.


Almost everything we do, eat, wear or touch in our day to day lives either currently does or once had a connection to the natural world. Nature meets almost all of our basic needs; food, water, shelter, health, and happiness and whether you love or loathe its company, the truth is, our very existence depends on the health and survival of the natural world.

Perhaps then, with the growth in education about the natural world sparked by programmes like the Blue Planet and gaining momentum through industrious individuals and organisations, we can begin to transform ambivalence into action and doubt into hope.





NCF (2018) https://naturalcapitalforum.com/about/ Accessed 21st June 2018.

Louv (2009) https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/people-in-nature/200901/no-more-nature-deficit-disorder Accessed 21st June 2018