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Following two competitions seeking architects to develop a masterplan for the long-term care of Highgate Cemetery, we are delighted to announce that the winner of the Landscape Competition is Gustafson Porter + Bowman, and the winner of the Architectural Projects Competition is Hopkins Architects.
Watch our short film about the magic of Highgate Cemetery, our 25-year masterplan, and an update about the project competitions.
The competitions were launched last November and attracted leading practices with some of the most creative and internationally recognised expertise in their fields. Following a shortlisting process and public views from an online exhibition, these two teams will assist the Cemetery in preparing a new 25-year masterplan for the site, to secure its future and ensure it remains a historic, and sustainable, twenty-first century cemetery.
Over the coming months the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust will work alongside the winning teams to develop detailed plans. The project will be led by the landscape and its needs in the context of climate change, and the architectural requirements will ensure listed monuments and historic buildings are well cared for, as well as exploring opportunities, including improved facilities for those who care for the site as well as for grave owners and visitors.
‘We were impressed by the work and thought that all the entrants put in, but the winners stood out’, says Martin Adeney, Chair of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust. ‘Both practices demonstrated a level of sensitivity and respect for the Cemetery which is fundamental to the success of any plans. They appreciate the long-term nature of the project, whilst also bringing the experience and the technical expertise we need. Public feedback from the online exhibition of shortlisted landscape submissions has been shared with the winning teams and we look forward to many more formal and informal opportunities for people to engage with our plans as they take shape.’
An image from GP+B’s competition submission demonstrating how some of the site’s historic vistas towards St Paul’s and central London might be framed and enhanced. It also shows a mix of planting which will be explored as part of the masterplan to increase biodiversity on the site, and widen the range of ecological systems which can be supported.
Gustafson Porter + Bowman’s approach explores how to use the topography of the site with changes of atmosphere between different areas. Working with the historical and natural character of the Cemetery this will ensure that visitors enjoy a tranquil and peaceful experience with a mixture of shady glades and more open grassy meadows.
Their approach to planting and trees aims to create the most resilient and sustainable landscape for future generations. To protect against new diseases - such as ash dieback - a mix of planting will be explored, increasing biodiversity on the site and widening the range of ecological systems which can be supported.
The team will look at ways to link the landscapes of both the East and West Cemeteries sympathetically and to frame and enhance some of the site’s historic vistas towards St Paul’s and central London.
Team and expertise
GP+B will be the Landscape Architect, Masterplanner and Lead Consultant for the project. They will oversee an experienced and skilled team of specialists who have been assembled to explore the opportunities and challenges of this compelling site.
The team will be led by GP+B’s founding partner Neil Porter. He will work closely with the full design team to develop the vision for the project. He has a great deal of experience leading GP+B’s high-profile cultural projects and over 30 years of experience in the industry. He is adept at working closely with clients to understand their ambition and vision, and will present to the board of trustees, key stakeholders, and press at key moments throughout.
GP+B would also like to thank the team who worked with them during the competition, and those who will continue to support them through the duration of the project including Jo Thompson Landscape & Garden Design, Max Fordham, Bartlett Tree Experts, Donald Insall Architects, Tim O'Hare and Ashgrove Ecology.
About the team
Gustafson Porter + Bowman are an award-winning landscape architecture practice based in London. We have a talented team of landscape architects, architects and urban designers led by five partners. Our wide-ranging specialisations allow us to engage with a multitude of projects from the urban masterplan scale to bespoke designs.
Our design process is always based on a deep understanding of a site; its geographical context and the organisations and cultures that shape them. We always visit our sites, research their location, history, hydrology, soils, plant communities, local context and site constraints. We will talk to clients, stakeholder and local people about their needs and ambitions. Only once we feel that we have understood these will we start developing a strong conceptual framework that lends meaning and distinctiveness to a development.
Our aim is to never repeat our work, but to remain inventive and sensitive, but also change perceptions, creating landscapes that are both cherished and remembered.
“Gustafson Porter + Bowman would like to thank the Highgate Cemetery Trust for selecting us to work on this incredibly exciting project. Our excellent and experienced team of subconsultants will support us in exploring the various landscape challenges and opportunities on what is a complex site, and together we will transform one of London’s most iconic cemeteries into one that continues to flourish as a place for burial, and a reserve for nature in the 21st century. We are looking forward to building a relationship with the local community, extracting and sharing Highgate Cemetery’s wealth of stories, and implementing an ‘experience plan’ for a sustainable future.”
Architectural projects overview
Hopkins Architects will use condition surveys to inform a careful programme of repair and conservation. Their new work will celebrate the gravitas, unique history and rich symbolism of the site.
Balancing the functional requirements of a working cemetery with the demands of an increasing number of visitors, their proposals will provide improved facilities for grave owners, volunteers and staff, and unlock the potential for enhancing the visitor experience.
All proposals are at a very early stage and will be considered as part of the wider masterplanning for the Cemetery.
Team and expertise
Hopkins Architects has, over the last 40, years completed many award- winning projects, both in the UK and internationally. The practice has a specialism in contextual yet modern design for historical or sensitive locations, with an approach that is deeply rooted in an understanding of place, and local and cultural needs.
Simon Fraser, Hopkins Principal, will lead on the Highgate Cemetery project and brings over 30 years’ experience. He has designed and delivered some of the practice’s most prestigious and complex projects. Simon also lives nearby Highgate Cemetery on the other side of the Heath and has a keen interest in the historical layering and meaning of cities and places. Simon studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow, the Architectural Association in London and Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music.
About the team
Our approach is highly collaborative. In putting a team together for the Highgate Cemetery project, we have selected a group of creative people comprising:
Hopkins Architects, who have extensive experience designing and delivering award winning projects in sensitive historic settings, such as Norwich Cathedral Refectory and Hostry, the Alnwick Garden Pavilion and Glyndebourne Opera House in Sussex;
Webb Yates (Structural Engineers), who have substantial experience in the conservation and restoration of historic structures, including St Alphage Garden and Hackney Arts Centre;
The Hopkins proposals will take into account the underlying geometry of the Cemetery in order to enhance its special quality.
Skelly & Couch (Services Engineers), who have specialist expertise in environmental design for listed and heritage projects and are currently working on a restoration and redevelopment for the Grade I listed British Academy;
West Scott (Heritage Consultants) who have 30 years of expertise and experience in the conservation of historic buildings and have already carried out surveys, refurbishments and repairs to buildings at Highgate Cemetery; and
Nick Perry Associates (Principal Designer) who are currently working with Hopkins, Webb Yates and Skelly and Couch on a project to redevelop the historic Twickenham Riverside.
We very much look forward to working with Highgate Cemetery and Gustafson Porter + Bowman to deliver a sensitive yet compelling project.
“We are delighted to have won the Highgate Cemetery architectural projects competition. Our approach will celebrate the gravitas, unique history and rich symbolism of the site and balance the functional requirements of a working cemetery with the demands of an increasing number of visitors. We look forward to working with the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust to develop a scheme which will ensure the sustainable future of this much-loved London location. Congratulations to Gustafson Porter +Bowman who have won the Landscape Competition.”
We face new challenges. Some monuments are under threat from long-term decay and maturing self-seeded trees, and many trees are afflicted by pests and diseases brought about by climate change. More extreme weather is eroding gravel paths and overwhelming the historic drainage systems. All this is impacting the historic landscape design and reducing biodiversity. The landscape masterplan will respond to these new challenges while respecting and enhancing the special character of the Cemetery. As a result, in November 2020 we launched two open competitions for the best landscape and architectural practices to work with us to develop our plans. In June 2021 we announced that the winning teams subject to contract, are Gustafson Porter + Bowman and Hopkins Architects.
All the entries were impressive but the winning teams from Gustafson Porter + Bowman, and Hopkins Architects really stood out in their understanding of the site. Both practices demonstrated a level of sensitivity and respect for the Cemetery which is fundamental to the success of any plans. They appreciate the long-term nature of the project and bring the experience and the technical expertise we need.
There will not be a sudden transformation. The masterplan – which will take a year or so to finalise and will of course require planning and listed building consent - will be our guide for the next 25 years. Our aim is that the trees, paths, monuments, and buildings will be better looked after, the Cemetery will continue to function as an active burial ground and visiting will be easier and more rewarding.
Many of the historic trees are coming to the end of their natural lives or are being increasingly suppressed by the secondary ash woodland which has sprung up and is in some cases suffering from disease. The landscape masterplan will provide for succession planting for these historic specimens, as well introducing new ornamental and native trees and shrubs. Improving biodiversity will help safeguard against the impact of pests, diseases, and climate change.
It is too early to say exactly what new buildings there might be or where. We will work with the architects to explore opportunities to improve facilities for grave owners, volunteers, visitors and staff on our very constricted site. Our gardeners are working out of goods containers that have reached the end of their working life, and we know we need better disabled access and visitor facilities. We will also be looking at the feasibility of exhibition space and other public facilities. Any plans will reflect the character of the site and take account of the landscape plan, and new structures will also be the subject of public consultation through the planning process.
It will be some time before we start to see changes and they will take place gradually. Landscape works can begin once our landscape masterplan is completed and has received the necessary statutory consents. Architectural plans and works are likely to take longer to be finalised. Phased implementation of the approved plans could begin in 2023.
Highgate Cemetery has enchanted visitors since it opened in 1839 and will continue to do so. Its sometimes-overgrown character and ramshackle monuments convey a sense of its history which the designers will be keen to retain. But the landscape masterplan will also mark a step away from the ‘managed neglect’ of more recent years to a programme of more active management to ensure that its special attraction is maintained.
In April 2021 we exhibited the shortlisted entries in the landscape competition and the feedback has been shared with the winning team. There will be more opportunities for people to express their views and help shape the final proposals as the design evolves. Public consultation will form a key element prior to the planning and listed building applications that we will make towards the end of 2022.
The cost of both work to the landscape and selected buildings within it will become clearer once design is underway. The outcome of the first stage of design will be a clear definition of the types of projects we might pursue accompanied by a detailed programme and cost plans. Our Project Execution Plan will set out the overarching approach to delivering selected projects on a phased basis for the next 25 years.
We will be developing a fundraising strategy which may include an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, supplemented by prudent use of our reserves.