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Landscape masterplan competition

Here are the four shortlisted Landscape Masterplan submissions for Highgate Cemetery.  

You are invited to share your thoughts on the shortlisted concepts submitted in response to our brief.  We will share them with the winning team to inform our plans as they develop.

Find out more about the Cemetery and the need for this work in our short film here

The brief was to find the best team to produce a landscape masterplan to guide the development of the Cemetery over the next twenty-five years. The plan must preserve and enhance the qualities for which the Cemetery has been appreciated over generations while enabling it to meet the new demands and expectations of the twenty-first century.

As part of our brief we asked the teams to think about how best to:

  • Preserve and enhance the qualities for which the Cemetery has been appreciated over generations
  • Enable it to meet the new demands and expectations of the twenty-first century
  • Respond sensitively to the historic landscape, ensuring that the Cemetery remains a place of enchantment, providing sanctuary for those buried there and their loved ones
  • Improve the Cemetery for the thousands who visit from all over the world; and the people that work here
  • Consider issues relating to climate change, biodiversity and sustainability

How to share your thoughts

The concepts are set out below, with a short film about the approach of the teams who submitted them. There’s a brief interactive survey you can complete on each to let us have your views — please feel free to comment on them all, or simply on the ones that interest you most.

We will share your responses with the winning team to help them develop their plans. At this stage the proposals are still being developed, and this is only the start of working with you and the wider community. There will be further opportunities to comment in the future. Thank you for your time.

Select proposal...

Colvin & Moggridge

A complex site serving many audiences, Highgate Cemetery deserves a shared vision of realistic and long-term delivery.

Our masterplan responds with sensitivity and imagination to its myriad interests and users, to reverse the slow erosion of significance and resolve existing conflicts.

Our conceptual masterplans will evolve in consultation with stakeholders strengthening the recognised character of Highgate Cemetery:

  • To the west, a contemplative picturesque woodland with dramatic topography, mis-en-scene with evergreen planting: a sequence of contrast along the journey uphill. Robust theatrical landscape with filtered views through thinned woodlands and the grand reveal of St Paul’s. The striking architecture safeguarded against encroaching trees and ivy yet allowing opportunity for greater biodiversity and ornamental planting.
  • To the east, a pragmatic and structured landscape, a core woodland mosaic enclosed by open areas of ornamental planting to better reveal the original grid layout. Woodland ‘rooms’ build on existing native plant communities creating pockets of seasonal floristic underplanting, flowering shrubs and accent planting beside the woodland edges and paths.

New burials and the internment of ashes will be accommodated in both cemeteries to continue active burial practices and income.


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About the team

We are the longest established landscape architecture practice in the country. Nine decades on the fresh, forward-thinking spirit and strong landscape design principles upon which the practice was founded continue to flourish and drive us forward. The result is a vast, ever expanding, catalogue of work that is always imaginative and sometimes seminal. We are landscape specialists. Our expertise lies in landscape design, planning and management. Our work spans every kind of landscape: public, private, urban, rural, small and large. Everything we do is based on an inspirational landscape philosophy. Our reputation and client list are testament to our long success and uniquely personal approach

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Gustafson Porter + Bowman

Our vision is to create a topographical exploration and discovery of both Cemeteries. An ‘experience plan’ that introduces visitors to the inexhaustible wealth of stories held within both Cemeteries that can change and be revealed over time.

The walk up Highgate Hill, starting in the East Cemetery, creates a topographical experience that starts with the original grid of paths and echoes the grid of the surrounding city. We wish to emphasise the major north south paths with new avenues of trees, framing meadows of graves, woodland bosques and mosaics of flowering perennials.

As one rises up the hill, the topography becomes steeper and one is introduced to the arabesque paths of the West Cemetery’s picturesque landscape. Here we imagine the woodland opening and closing to reveal glades of sunlight that provide unexpected views, revealing hidden graves and drifts of woodland plants.

At the top of the hill within the Circle of Lebanon, and above the catacombs, the planting gets more exotic, representing a paradise on earth, with fantastic views across the Cemetery’s planted hillside to the newly restored Chapel entrance, St Paul’s and Central London.

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About the team

Gustafson Porter + Bowman is an award-winning landscape architecture practice which has received public acclaim for creating authentically engaging spaces within a global portfolio. The development of our design work has continuously pushed the boundaries of what constitutes the field of landscape design and is known for its sensual and sculptural features.

Spanning climate zones, geographical characters, historical and cultural backgrounds, our exciting and varied projects include the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial in Hyde Park (London, 2004), Cultuurpark Westergasfabriek (Amsterdam, 2006), Old Market Square (Nottingham, 2007), Parque Central (Valencia, 2019) and the first ever landscape installation at the 11th Architecture Biennale in Venice (2008).

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CSSJ&L Gibbons

Highgate Cemetery presents an extraordinary mosaic of culture and ecology. An opportunity to realise a unique collaborative and place-based approach to design and conservation in the landscape.

Fundamental to this is cross-fertilising precise analytical baseline information with knowledge embedded in the community, to evolve a set of core design principles that substantiate each action. Every aspect of design and stewardship is interrelated within a vision that is relational, long-term orientated, and incrementally transformative. A vision that cultivates a collective dimension and energy through process driven actions both creative and scholarly.

This is a delicate act of balancing values; enhancing the living spirit of the cemetery while nurturing the nuanced art of conservation. The cemetery is more than an assemblage of historic monuments, it is a living landscape. An urban forest embracing the dynamics of time, territory and memory. A landscape that now requires radical caretaking, to safeguard the future and integrity, both of specific features and the special character of the whole which are inseparable. An action plan based on the interdependence of all life, structured by above and below ground critical infrastructure; soils, surface water, trees and plants. An ecology of natural cycles and the human experience — growth and decay — profound and serene.

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About the team

J & L Gibbons is an established and visionary Landscape Architecture studio based in London. The practice began in 1986 and is renowned for its innovative and holistic design process combining research and an open-minded approach to design. J & L Gibbons has the experience and skill to envisage and communicate the dynamic and specific beauty of each landscape over the long-term. The practice is driven by a desire to safeguard the deep ecologies that shape the character of a place. It is dedicated to key practice priorities of design quality, integrated green infrastructure, promoting natural heritage (especially veteran trees), landscape stewardship and community empowerment through sharing knowledge and experience in the landscape. This is reflected in the studio’s portfolio which is characterised by a scrupulous understanding of both natural processes and community networks.

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Our vision for Highgate Cemetery envisages a place of coexistence for all life and all death — human and non-human, local and global.

Karl Marx is joined by the last white rhino; the Victorian mass common graves are accompanied by mausoleums for stag beetles; and contemporary ecological death practices nourish the earth for future generations.

Highgate has long been home to some of the greatest men and women of London’s history. It is also a place where nature has coexisted alongside human burial for centuries, but it has done so coincidentally.

In our vision the site will now also be home to the greatest non-human species and actively managed living systems.

We look to a future of fully integrated natural systems where the cemetery is managed as a circular, zero-waste woodland; to the gradual growth of a future climate-adapted forest; where communities are invited to learn and work with the woodland; and where human death cycles are aligned with ecological life. This is the instigation of an evolutionary approach to stabilise a highly delicate and complex site. At Highgate, we embrace the restorative power of nature in both life and death, for past and future generations.

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About the team

Periscope is a design practice skilled in the fields of architecture, landscape and urbanism.

We design and deliver resilient projects that work for people and planet, grounding our interventions within their greater ecological, topographic and social fabric. In valuing meticulous research, technical rigour and plural voices we seek to meet the challenges of our and future generations

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Architectural Projects Competition Finalists

We are also running a competition to find architects to help us conserve historic structures and improve facilities at the Cemetery for visitors and staff.

In February the judging panel selected the following six teams to go through to the next stage of the competition — undertaking development and feasibility work. We will seek views on these proposals at a later stage and through public consultation as part of the Planning process.

Timeline overview

Timeline Timeline

Your questions answered

Why are you holding competitions?

Competitions can encourage innovative solutions and more creative ideas. They can even challenge a client’s own perceptions about their site and its potential. Highgate Cemetery’s competitions show our interest in thinking creatively and being open to the ideas of others.

Why do you need two competitions?

Through the Landscape Competition we will find practitioners in landscape design to develop a landscape masterplan for the site. Through the Architectural Projects Competition we will find an architect-led design team to investigate projects to improve facilities for staff and visitors and to preserve and enhance the historic structures. We believe having two teams working jointly on defining our vision and brief will deliver the best solutions. 

How will the cemetery change?

The competitions will not result in a sudden transformation but will provide us with a road-map for developing and managing the Cemetery over the next twenty-five 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.

Why do you need a landscape masterplan?

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 undermining 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.

What is the timescale for the Landscape Competition?

The Landscape Competition is in two-stages. We have completed Stage 1 when ten registered landscape architects provided a proposal by 13 January 2021. We have now announced a shortlist of practices to develop their ideas as part of Stage 2 of the process. Following that, the judging panel will select a single team that will then be appointed by summer 2021 to develop their proposals further and create a landscape masterplan.

Who was on the judging panel for the Landscape Competition and what criteria did you use to choose the shortlist?

The judging panel consisted of members of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust and experts from the Landscape Institute, the professional body for the profession in the UK. They will be joined by additional external experts for the final judging of shortlisted projects, in May.

What is the Architectural Projects Competition about?

We need to improve our very limited facilities for grave owners, the 100,000 visitors we normally welcome each year, volunteers and staff, but all this must be done within an extremely constricted site. The restoration or repair and maintenance of our historic structures will come first, and we hope to be able to reinstate the lost pinnacles on our chapels.

What is the timescale for the Architectural Projects Competition?

The Architectural Projects Competition is in two stages. The first stage has now been completed and we have shortlisted six out of 35 architect-led multidisciplinary teams to submit initial proposals as part of stage 2 of the competition. The judging panel will then select a single team that will then be appointed by summer 2021 to develop feasibility studies to help prioritise projects for the future. As the Architectural projects are long term and require detailed feasibility work, public consultation will take place at a later stage, and as part of the Planning process.

Who was on the judging panel for the Architectural Projects Competition and what criteria did you use to choose the shortlist?

The judging panel consisted of members of the Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust and Artelia, who have been running the competition on FOHCT’s behalf. They will be joined by additional external experts for the final judging of shortlisted projects, in May.

When will work begin?

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 in 2022. Architectural plans and works are likely to take longer to be finalised with works not anticipated until 2023.

Will the enchanting, overgrown character of the Cemetery change?

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.

Will any trees be removed as a result of these plans? What will replace them?

Many of the historic trees are coming to the end of their natural lives, and are being increasingly suppressed by the secondary ash woodland which has sprung up of its own accord. The landscape masterplan will provide for succession planting for these historic specimens, as well introducing new ornamental and native trees and shrubs. Diversification of species will increase biodiversity and help safeguard against the impact of pests, diseases and climate change.

What new buildings might be appearing on the site?

The Architectural Projects Competition will explore opportunities to improve facilities for grave owners, volunteers, visitors and staff on this very constricted site. It is too early to say exactly what might eventuate or where, as this will only become clear once design teams are briefed and appointed and design has progressed. However, our gardeners are working out of goods containers, and we know we need better disabled access. Any new structures would be the subject of public consultation through the planning process.

How can I have my say?

Shortlisted entries in the Landscape Competition are now on our website. You can contribute your thoughts on those, and we will share your responses with the successful firm to develop the final masterplan. There will be further opportunities to help shape proposals in future.

How much will it cost?

The cost will become clearer once design is underway. A series of defined projects will be accompanied by a detailed programme and cost plans. Our Project Execution Plan will set out the overarching approach to delivering selected projects for the next twenty-five years.

How will it be paid for?

Once we have the implementation plans, we will then be able to prioritise projects and fundraise accordingly. Potential applications to the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Other fundraising initiatives and prudent use of our reserves will secure the Cemetery for the future.