by Mrinmayee BhootOct 23, 2023
Octagonal, hunkering chimney-like structures peek through the foliage at Mayfield Park in Manchester, inspired by the industrial heritage of the city. The park, designed by British architecture practice Studio Egret West and opened to the public last year, was the studio’s attempt to reintroduce greenery and wildlife into the city centre. Open green lawns, meadows and play areas bring the park alive—with the buzz of activities mingled with birdsong—tied together by the restored river Medlock meandering through the site.
The 6.5-acre green oasis (which is the first green space in Manchester in 100 years) was part of a larger development scheme conceived by a joint venture between developer LandsecU+I and the Mayfield Partnership comprising regeneration corporation LCR, Manchester City Council and Transport for Greater Manchester. The scheme, apart from creating public spaces in the city centre, has planned approximately 1,500 homes, one million square metres of offices, a 350-bedroom hotel, and retail and leisure facilities in the area. In a conversation with STIR, Studio Egret West's landscape director Duncan Paybody emphasised the significance of such parks and the relevance of rewilding urban spaces. He also underscored the relevance of greenery in the city of Manchester—once the industrial heart of England—in a time when a large number of people are migrating to urban centres.
One of the key concerns for the locals was that any redevelopment scheme must reflect the city’s unique identity, a "Manchester park” for the close-knit Mancunian community. The city, which was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, has had a layered history. It grew in leaps and bounds with the meteoric rise of the cotton industry; but since the world wars, has been subject to post-industrial decline. Mirroring this history, Mayfield went from being an industrial site to a train station to lying unused for more than 40 years, until U+I was formally appointed to redevelop the area.
Building on the rich context of the area, Studio Egret West made the conscious decision to retain, restore and reuse elements from it. Victorian hog back beams were converted into bridges, all materials used in the landscaping were locally sourced, and any new elements such as the children’s play area were designed to reflect the industrial heritage permeating the terrain. The park feels like a factory overrun by natural elements as Mayfield’s design honours the site’s heritage while also critiquing the dichotomy of nature and industry through sensitive interventions.
One of the crucial aspects of the restoration process was uncovering the river Medlock that ran through Mayfield. It had previously been culverted and almost entirely hidden from view. Employing a “nature-first” approach meant that the river would become an important asset for the park, potentially turning it into a biodiverse habitat. Moreover, the landscaping strategy ensures that damage due to floods will be mitigated by diverting the waters.
According to the studio, unearthing the river has been instrumental in attracting wildlife to the area. The strategy allows communities in dense urban centres with little green space the chance to reconnect with nature. The park’s design—which developed through dialogue with the locals—its open lawns, riverside walkways, accessible play areas and pockets of gathering spaces ensure that all members of the community can enjoy the greens. Over the past year, as Paybody affirms, the park and especially the playgrounds have been very popular among the citizens.
Since the design pivots on the notion of regeneration of natural landscapes, the planting scheme adopted was carefully considered. Different plant arrangements, planting beds, and grasslands were interspersed to create distinct pockets within the park. The sustainable design keeps in mind changing climatic conditions while finalising the planting scheme. A motley selection of plants that respond to different climates ensures that the design creates a visually striking yet functional landscape throughout the year.
While the park has become a vital part of the community, the scheme for the regeneration of Mayfield will incorporate another 6.5 acres turning it into a new public plaza. A predominantly pedestrian area with flexible spaces for events, it will act as an extension of the park, attracting more visitors to the site. This ongoing dialogue with the city that includes the locals in processes of design, thus resulting in accessible community spaces signals a return of the humanistic within the urban. It means that we are looking at the city and its design not as a top-down project, but from the grassroots.
Name: Mayfield Park
Location: Manchester, United Kingdom
Development masterplanner: Studio Egret West
Park landscape architect: Studio Egret West
Park contractor: PP O'Connor
Civil/structural engineer: Civic Engineers
River engineer: Buro Happold
Planning consultant: Deloitte
Project manager/QS: Faithful & Gould
Contractor landscape architect: Gillespies and Layer Studio
Landscape contractor: Ashlea Landscapes
Playground design: Massey + Harris
Lighting design: Studio Fractal