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City Spaces

Words: Mark Harris. Photos: Miguel Blasco Martin

The importance of invigorating and well-designed communal spaces can never be under-estimated, especially in cities such as Portsmouth, the most densely populated city in the UK after London.

Public space is often at a premium, and as a country we have a tendency to think of design on a personal level rather than macro level. Many residents in Southsea have limited outside space of their own, so the importance of attractive communal spaces is vital in creating a healthy and cohesive city.

I have listed some of my favourite public spaces in Southsea, all share a common theme of having been recently upgraded in some way.

ROSE GARDENS Built on the site of Lumps Fort, a naval fort dating from the mid-19th century, The Rose Gardens provide an interesting example of the transformation of a disused site into an engaging public space. A lovely place to wander and sit under its sheltered pergolas. It is hard to believe that this tranquil space was once used as the training base for the Cockleshell heroes of World War II.

ROCK GARDENS with the new ornate arch by Pete Clutterbuck the sunken gardens offer a refuge from the busy seafront promenade and blustery Southsea winds. Sadly, some of the plants have begun to suffer from sea water inundation over the past few years, which the city’s gardeners are trying to rectify by improving the soil quality. The gardens were originally a shingle area purchased by the Portsmouth Corporation in 1928. They are laid out in an informal design, full of surprising vistas and a wide variety of plants that thrive in its microclimate.

HOTWALLS The recent transformation of these formerly disused Victorian artillery barracks by PLC Architects into 13 artist studios and a cafe has brought new life to the space between the Square and Round Tower – thanks to a coastal rejuvenation fund. It has also improved awareness of the pretransformation memorials and artworks such as “The Bonds of Friendship” sculpture, celebrating the links between Portsmouth and Australia – it was from our city that the First Fleet set sail in 1787 to create the penal colony that became Australia.

NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM GARDENS One of the consequences of the recent relocation of the Butterfly house at the NHM has been the reinstatement of the rear terrace. Thankfully the butterflies are benefitting from a new home, but the reconfiguration has also helped to bring a new balance to the relationship between the museum and its garden. Tucked away, off of Canoe Lake, these gardens offer assorted flower beds and two large oak trees, perfect for a picnic.

MILLENNIUM PROMENADE WALK This 3km walk from Clarence Pier to the Hard has opened up large parts of our waterfront that were closed to the public. One of my favourite parts is next to the Square Tower with some spectacular views of the Solent from the sculptured concrete benches, looking inland you have the majestic Garrison Church, Nelson’s statue and Grand Parade with some of Portsmouth’s finest domestic architecture for company. The walk is arguably one of the UK’s most successful millennium projects but its exposed location requires constant upkeep and care. There is always the scope for creating new public spaces of course, especially with the plans for the sea defences undergoing public consultation and how the proposed changes will affect the seafront. But, by identifying places with transformation potential, existing spaces can be upgraded, which has led to the nearly completed interactive fountain in front of Southsea Castle – and D-Day Museum.

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