Max­imis­ing on in­ner-city views, this Mediter­ranean rooftop gar­den is a clever com­po­si­tion of seat­ing spa­ces


Afear of heights is not what you would ex­pect from the owner of a pent­house on the thir­teenth floor of a block of apart­ments. But it was one of the defin­ing fac­tors for this King’s cross roof ter­race owned by alex hooi and Keir Mcguin­ness and de­signed by emily er­lam in 2014. ‘Keir was up­front about the fact he dis­liked heights, so we had to find a so­lu­tion that dis­guised the edges of the ter­race and pro­vided a bar­rier to the sheer drop be­low,’ says emily. The dizzy­ing ver­ti­cal views have been cush­ioned by clever plant­ing, lulling peo­ple into for­get­ting how high they are – yet still al­low­ing a dra­matic and far-reach­ing panorama of the city.

‘our ob­jec­tive was to cre­ate some sort of seclu­sion and en­clo­sure in what was a windy, bar­ren space,’ says Keir, who bought the apart­ment in the riba award-win­ning Plim­soll Build­ing in 2014. ‘When you are out on the ter­race at week­ends, this place is so quiet. There’s a real sense of peace and calm.’

span­ning 170 square me­tres, this is cer­tainly one of the largest pri­vate roof spa­ces in this area, if not the whole of Lon­don, so the aim was to di­vide up the space into a se­ries of co­cooned seat­ing and din­ing ar­eas to make it feel less bleak. ‘It was a chal­lenge,’ re­mem­bers emily. ‘I was col­lab­o­rat­ing with david Mor­ley ar­chi­tects and in­te­rior de­sign­ers John­son nay­lor while the build­ing work was still in progress to en­sure that the roof ter­race was in­te­grated seam­lessly into the de­sign, at­tend­ing board meet­ings with huge numbers of peo­ple.’

Then there were the in­fin­i­tes­i­mal cal­cu­la­tions for weight al­lowance. This is, of course, of para­mount im­por­tance on a roof, as are the con­sid­er­a­tions that go hand-in-hand with it. The Kin­ley planters, for ex­am­ple, made from 3mm thick pow­der-coated steel, are with­out bases and filled with light­weight com­post to half their depth only. They also had to fit the space down to the last mil­lime­tre, a plan that al­most went pear-shaped when, well into the de­sign process, emily was in­formed that var­i­ous points around the perime­ter of the ter­race had to be kept free for ab­seil­ing ac­cess for win­dow clean­ers. The so­lu­tion? To de­sign be­spoke con­tain­ers that can be wheeled out.

The other chal­lenge of any roof ter­race, par­tic­u­larly one this high, is that it has its own mi­cro­cli­mate. ‘Wind speeds can be extraor­di­nar­ily high up here and can pick up quickly, so we had to be aware of that at all times and never leave any­thing un­teth­ered,’ says emily. The plant­ing is de­signed to with­stand the in­hos­pitable, des­ic­cat­ing con­di­tions with as lit­tle in­ter­ven­tion as pos­si­ble.

emily’s bible be­came The Dry Gar­den­ing Hand­book by olivier Filippi, who runs a nurs­ery in France that spe­cialises in Mediter­ranean plants. she chose sculp­tural, mound­form­ing plants that can with­stand sun and wind, such as es­cal­lo­nia and eu­ony­mus, as well a bil­low­ing ever­green shrubs like Pi­nus sylvestris ‘Wa­tereri’, Pi­nus mugo and Phillyrea

an­gus­ti­fo­lia to cre­ate the re­quired screen­ing. aro­matic rose­mary, oregano and laven­der cas­cade around a wide cedar day bed with built-in stor­age, while softer plants such as pen­nise­tum and gaura bring con­trast and move­ment.

Move­ment also comes from the bronze wa­ter fea­ture, in­spired by some­thing Keir had seen at the rhs chelsea Flower show. ‘The move­ment and gen­tle sound of the wa­ter is de­signed to fo­cus you in­wards on the space, so you’re dis­tracted from the world out­side,’ says emily. It has brought an un­ex­pected bonus. ‘We get all sorts of wildlife,’ says Keir. ‘We’ve had ducks nest­ing, goldfinche­s and even drag­on­flies. It’s won­der­ful’. Emily Er­lam Land­scapes 8 er­lam­stu­dio.com n

the dra­matic Lon­don sky­line is soft­ened by the drought- and wind­tol­er­ant plant­ing, with Pen­nise­tum alopecuroi­des ‘hameln’ and Gaura lind­heimeri form­ing a semi-trans­par­ent screen

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