Brett Gardens

Design Team: BCA Landscape, Ellis Williams Architects

The Brett Study Garden has recently opened at the Liverpool University Campus and includes 44 enclosed study carrells, each with a window into a shared green space.

This is one of the many environmental and spatial improvements we are helping implement across the wider campus. While there are more images and details to come, we would like to start by sharing some of the process and thinking that informed this new secret study garden.


To get the ball rolling we asked ourselves the question – what actually makes a place conducive to the process of studying. Covid made us look again at how and where we work and study. It focused our minds and bodies on the need for fresh air and emphasised the importance of a connection with nearby nature and the outdoors. It made us realise that the enclosed environment of our homes and workplace aren’t always beneficial for our health or productivity.  

With the exponential rise in distractions that our modern lives bring us, from social media notifications to a deluge of daily emails and back-to-back virtual meetings filling every hour, our need to find positive environments to work and study in becomes ever more vital.  

So, what is it about a window with a green view that makes us feel better? Over the last few years we have been delving deeper into understanding the psychological and physiological mechanics behind this phenomenon. It’s a fascinating world that includes touch, sound and smell, and not just sight. It involves ergonomics and proxemics (are we comfortable?) and it tracks back thousands of years to see how we are still adapting as a species to the very recent arrival of Cities! 

We have been using this fascinating research to develop our own understanding and in-turn inform our design for this amazing new Study Garden at Liverpool University’s Sydney Jones Library.  

We plan to collect further user feedback over the coming months and years to help understand the effects of planting growth and seasonal changes on the various qualities of the Study Garden, including the impact of artificial light in the darkening afternoons of the Autumn term. 

[Images: Day to night comparison – View of green space from Andy’s garden shed / home office]

University of Liverpool Enhancements 

Year of Completion: 2017 – Ongoing

Client: University of Liverpool

Project Team: BCA Landscape

Development of a campus that has a clear identity and adding value to the existing built environment for the benefit of the university, wider community and local ecosystems.

In 2017 Liverpool University published an ambitious £ 1billion Masterplan Estates Strategy to 2026 and beyond. The Masterplan looks to position the University at the heart of the emerging Knowledge Quarter and to carefully weave the campus into the fabric of the city.  It seeks to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who use it.

The masterplan pledge to become a 1,000 tree campus is driving up the quality of the public spaces, and as the various proposals are brought forward, each project is an opportunity to increase active travel, to provide a legacy of biodiversity net gain, to deal responsibly with surface water drainage and to improve the mental and physical well-being of staff students and the local community.

BCA Landscape were commissioned in 2017 to assist the University in the development and delivery of the Masterplan and have also produced all the necessary landscape package information to allow for costing, tendering and construction – working closely with the University of Liverpool Construction Company (Special Projects) Ltd to agree procurement and construction logistics to enable all projects to be built as fast-track efficient packages to minimise disruption to campus life.

We have been the Landscape Architect for all the major campus improvements since that date, which now total over 30 projects, including the School of Law and Social Justice (with Ryder Architects), The School of Architecture (with O’Donnell + Tuomey Architects), Yoko Ono Lennon Centre and Brett Gardens (with Ellis Williams Architects), School of Environmental Science (with Sheppard Robson Architects).

Click here for campus enhancements overview

Active Campus Design with Sport Liverpool

The masterplan also aimed to create an innovative active campus that encourages outdoor exercise, relaxation, and social interaction within a sustainable ‘green’ landscape. A variety of different activities are set within an enriched environment that promotes positive mental and physical well-being for everyone.

This included Sensitively curated and zoned spaces across the campus enhance the sense of community and offer new outdoor opportunities to come together for events, relaxation, learning, sport and play.

Forest Bathing Pod

Year of Completion: 2019

Budget: Under £10,000

Client: The Mersey Forest (Urban Greenup)

Design Team: BCA Landscape, Liverpool’s Royal Court Set Building Team

Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest. Now their research is helping to establish shinrin-yoku and forest therapy throughout the world.

Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventative health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

This project aims to bring The Mersey Forest into the heart of the city and demonstrate the power of nature, our ‘Natural Health Service’, to provide an oasis of calm, an opportunity to catch our breath and our thoughts; ready for the day ahead.

The Mark 01# version of The Pop-up Forest Bathing Pod landed to rave reviews for two days in Williamson Square, Liverpool on 26-27th June 2019. Passers-by took a 10 minute break from their busy life schedules to experience for themselves the healing power of the infinite pop-up forest bathing pod.

Designed by BCA Landscape for The Mersey Forest as part of the wider Urban GreenUP Project, in conjunction with Liverpool City Council, The University of Liverpool and The Liverpool BID Company.

Built by the Royal Court set-building team and funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Urban GreenUP project.

Stonyhurst College

Budget: £35,000

This peaceful retreat garden is a new and welcome addition to the historic grounds of the world renowned Stonyhurst College. Adjoining this is a restoration project of an early 19th century water mill which for decades had stood roofless and abandoned until it’s recent conversion to a religious education centre and retreat.

The journey is created through a series of connected spaces each having their own characteristics and purposes. It starts with a narrow lane with a glimpse of a sculpture through a slice in the hedge, signifying a path and a journey to be embarked upon. This then leads into a transition space with the use of simple shapes, symmetry and a grid of uniform trees is meant to cleanse the mind and prepare it for reflection. Through another gap in the boundary this route opens up into a large seating area with a square of pleached trees and a central focal point. Spaces are enclosed by sandstone walls and hedging to create an introspective sequence free from any external distractions. As you enter the final space of this series it opens up to a large meadow with a clear path cut through it and a bold backdrop of Wester Red Cedars.

Madagascar Play at Chester Zoo

Budget: £0.5m

Project Team: BCA Landscape, Handspring Design, Lanes Landscape, Timber Play

Having fun is no trivial pursuit. In fact, it’s crucial to our mental health and happiness. The project expands the variety and type of play offer that was previously in the zoo and encourages higher forms of imaginary and creative social play within a series of exciting and flexible spaces.

Through creative innovation and careful design consideration it combines and balances all the latest thinking and research in the realms of the psychology of play and communication friendly spaces, with the needs of the zoo and its staff and a fascinating and playful exploration of the wonderful island of Madagascar.

There are a number of key themes and objectives that run through the scheme, including :- the use of Natural materials and a need to create a deeper connection with nature, the creation of welcoming and innovative people niches – for kids, teenagers, adults, grandparents and families and a flexible landscape where children can manipulate their environment to suit their imagination.

“Decades of research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social-emotional development at all ages. This is especially true of the purest form of play: the unstructured, self-motivated, imaginative, independent kind, where children initiate their own games and even invent their own rules.” – Can We Play? by David Elkind

Wirral Waters – Metropolitan College

Project Team: BCA Landscape, Parkinson Inc, Glenn Howells Architects, Turleys, DBK, Morgan Sindall, Jacobs Engineering, Hoare Lee

Awards: RIBA National Award 2016

Bold colours and forms, robust materials, close attention to details and new blocks of trees transform a derelict dock edge into an iconic and memorable landscape in scale with this post-industrial waterside neighbourhood.

“It is always important for us to help create unique places for people to use and enjoy that go beyond the functionality of access and parking. Here students, visitors and staff at the new campus are able to enjoy their break times outdoors, reclining on the urban loungers amongst the maritime grasses. Beautiful views over the docks are framed by the iconic red steel picture frames, inspired by the nearby Dock structures.” – Andy Thomson, Director at BCA Landscape

“One of the most successful aspects of the building is the way it works within an excellent landscape scheme. The setting of the dockside has been fully exploited, yet this is not a normal UK design response. The absence of barriers to water was noticeable and combined with the lack of perimeter fencing the landscape is allowed to act as an outside space that people want to be in – not an enclosed car park. It was this final aspect that persuaded the judges that this could indeed be worthy of an award – the building and its landscape can act as a blueprint for an excellent minimum standard for future phases.” – RIBA Judge

Rotunda Community Campus

Budget: £80,000

Project Team: BCA Landscape

Awards: Landscape Institute 2016, Echo Environment Awards

Created on a piece of semi-derelict brownfield land, this is a new community garden we designed, raised funds for and volunteered to help build. It provides our client with opportunities for training and qualifications for gardeners; improves community links; enables wheelchair-friendly access; incorporates a kitchen garden to link with their cafe; whilst promoting the concept of growing and eating fresh fruit and vegetables.

Soft landscape: New planting includes – over 150 new native trees, over 1,000 Native Hedgerow species, more than 10,000 new Bulbs and woodland understorey plants and over 1,000 perennials and shrubs that are attractive to insects and pollinators.

Hard landscape: Recycled stable tiles and yorkstone were reclaimed from a local salvage yard to create new hard standing areas. Upcycled furniture was made locally.

“The transformation of this fabulous country garden represents the regeneration of the community at large. This garden is a catalyst for the rejuvenation of Kirkdale – we’re breathing new life into the area and providing increased opportunities for young and old alike.” – Maxine Ennis, CEO of Rotunda

Angel Field

Budget: £900,000

Project Team: BCA Landscape

Awards: Civic trust Award 2011, National Roses Design Award 2011, Landscape Institute Award 2011, RIBA Red Rose Project of the Year (Architecture and Landscape), RIBA Landscape Award (Winner)

Stories give form to the transience of existence. We express ourselves by telling stories in the form of dance, films and plays and verbally in song and conversation. The story is given form in the landscape as a walk through time referencing ecology and culture, Liverpool as a City and the story of Western Civilisation as a whole.

The journey through Angel Field begins with a reflective pool set within a copse of native trees – a symbolic wilderness representing the origins of life. Next, an apple orchard set amongst a wildflower meadow produces fruit and nectar to nourish the body. Topiary forms and yew hedges define a performance space where flowers put on a colourful show in beds formed by interlocking Fibonacci spirals; this is the garden of the mind.

Finally, between St. Francis Xavier church and the Cornerstone building, Angel Field [originally the name of a farm on the same site] has it’s own angel sculpture. The specially commissioned artwork forms a focal point at the end of an avenue of trees, inviting people to look up. This final space is dedicated to the spirit.

“The Creative Campus has been completed by this outstanding public space which links a series of otherwise disparate buildings across a serene and playful garden. It has been realised by an imaginative designer determined to deliver on the vision. Built to an exceptional standard of finish, it is a soft and welcome delight in an otherwise harsh urban setting. A place you will want to return to again and again.”