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.

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 Chantry’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.

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 was all this 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 sculptor. Also working with Gillespies for the overall detail plan and with engineering complexity managed superbly by Buro Happold. The materials capability and the generations of experience by the Fillippi 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!

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.

Read more about the project here.

Images courtesy of Lendlease.