Client: Lendlease and Southwark Council
Landscape Architect: Gillespies
Artist: Mel Chantrey (The Fountain Workshop)
Contractor: PJ Carey and (Buro Happold - Civil Engineers)

Images courtesy of Lendlease

Spectacular new rock and water playscape

With personal outdoor space in high demand and in short supply in the capital, an amazing new water landscape playground of natural stone set amidst a green oasis has been revealed in the heart of central London. Elephant Springs, the regeneration project spearheaded by Lendlease and Southwark Council, prides itself with carefully arranged stone formations, cascading water channels, sandy lagoons all surrounded by atmospheric lighting set in Elephant Park, one of London Zone One’s contemporary green spaces.

Artist Mel Chantrey of The Fountain Workshop, who previously designed the waterscape for the Diana, Princess of Wales, memorial playground, collaborated with stone suppliers Hardscape, the client teams, key stakeholders, landscape architects’ Gillespies and the surrounding community to create an inspirational and educational space to provide mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors with nature. Elephant Springs brings a natural play experience within the heart of Elephant & Castle, London.

Sculptural work of art

Elephant Springs, in essence a sculptural work of art, features rocky boulder mounds over two metres high, covering an area of 420sq metres and is constructed entirely from 600 colourful Prima Porphyry stone blocks and boulders, an igneous rock formed 230 million years ago, all meticulously sourced by Hardscape from a quarry in the Albiano region of northern Italy. Mel Chantrey was taken to the quarry with Hardscape as early as Summer 2018 where he began to understand the beauty and the qualities of Porphyry and also the dedication and commitment of the family-owned and run business that would ultimately play a huge part in the seamless selection process of the stones and boulders for this amazing project.

The specification process of selection of the raw material all had to be done online due to Covid restrictions at the time, so this was a huge undertaking for Hardscape’ in-house design team creating detailed drawings from Gillespies original drawings and Mel Chantrey’s plasticine models with CGI measurements taken from online imagery and video footage and then creating measured to scale 3D models and stone schedules. Hardscape managed the prebuilt phase; the main featured in Italy and gained sign off and comment by the client team remotely using online digital 24-hour available viewing platforms. Hardscape then deconstructed the materials to be rebuilt when arrived on site by the contractor. Behind the scenes, Hardscape’s sister company IP Surfaces were involved in drilling, shaping and processing the underside of 2-4 tonne Prima Porphyry boulders to house the water fountain infrastructure.

A real testament to the professionalism and capabilities of all concerned in unprecedented circumstances with none more so than Hardscape who were still able to deliver the materials required despite the many logistical challenges that were obvious throughout a global pandemic. This was a project where the ‘spectacular’ of the materials as they were unveiled became the motivating driver for completion to take the design to reality. The addition of water further revealed the ‘crown jewel’ moment.

Multifunctional and Educational

Now installed and within and around the scheme, water naturally rises from Elephant Springs’ rock formations and babbling brooks which resemble a prehistoric world where children can let their imaginations run wild with the stones blending harmoniously into the surrounding landscape. Vintage water pumps, cascading water channels and motion activated water jets, provide active fun and educational experiences for both children and adults. With carefully arranged stone formations, hand laid with traditional artisan skills by a family of stonemasons, the space has been purposefully designed to provide a multifunctional and accessible experience for every visitor and has been fitted with seating perches and wheelchair ramps for disability access. As a day to night destination, Elephant Springs will be lit by variegated lighting as the sun sets, enhancing reflections of the waterfalls and sculptural effects of the space as each day draws to a close, bringing some charm to the area.

Mel Chantrey, said: “In creating this installation I have drawn on memories and experiences distilled from encounters in the natural landscape. Our aspiration was to create a place that was both evocative and engaging to a wide audience and age groups. That has been the driving force behind the design of Elephant Springs. We wanted to make something which could delight, challenge and excite children, but also somewhere adults would just as much want to come and spend time, where all the senses – smell, touch and sounds, would be simultaneously stimulated. Our hope is that it will inspire others to think differently about how public spaces can be designed.”

Why and how was all this made possible? Firstly, the vision of Lendlease followed alongside the unique understanding of Mel Chantrey and his capability to fuse art and water to create a stunning educational playground of sculpture. Also, collaboration with Gillespies for the overall detail plan, the engineering complexity managed superbly by Buro Happold and the materials knowledge capability with generations of experience by the Filippi family from Trento, Italy – all meticulously knitted together by PJ Carey and their enthusiastic and skilled installation experts each with massive hearts to deliver the vision of this amazing project!

A green oasis for everyone to enjoy

Lendlease’s Project Director for Elephant Park, Kristy Lansdown, said: “We are all aware that forming connections with nature is hugely beneficial for people’s mental and physical wellbeing. We wanted to create somewhere, in the heart of London’s zone one urban environment, which enabled people to step back from their busy lives, to play and to relax. The space has been inspired by feedback from the community and our commitment to sustainable outcomes to create a unique natural environment that will delight people of all ages. In this post-Covid world, being outdoors has become more important than ever before, and we are proud to have created a green oasis for everyone to enjoy and hope the community will be proud of it too. We invite you to visit and enjoy the park, take off your shoes and put your feet in the water!”

Cllr Catherine Rose, Southwark Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport, Parks and Sport, said: “Green spaces are fundamental to our residents’ health and well-being, from helping to clean Southwark’s air to providing a calming oasis or favourite spot to exercise. This is why we’re delighted that Elephant Park and its unique waterscape now belongs to the borough’s extensive network of over 215 parks and green spaces. By unlocking and increasing open space in Southwark, we can create restful places for all ages as well as new safe routes to walk, cycle or play. We hope this will become a new local favourite place throughout the whole year for everyone living, visiting, or working in the area.”

As London welcomes visitors back and residents look forward to the summer months, Elephant Springs will provide a new meeting point for families and friends to be together and reconnect once again. Nestled amongst the mature trees that are integral to the brand new two-acre park, this special spot in the heart of London offers a place of rest, relaxation, play and delight for all.

Right from the start of the project, Elephant Park has committed to be net-zero carbon in operation by the time the project completes in 2025.

Elephant Springs opened to the public in June 2021 and can be found at Elephant Park, Elephant Road, London, SE17 1UB and accessed off Castle Square, a new public space which forms the gateway to Elephant Park.