In 2015, we joined forces with Architecture 00. Together, we enjoy collaborating in a shared environment where strategic, urban and social designers, architects, programmers and economists practice design beyond its traditional borders. 00 work with individuals, governments, corporations and communities to solve problems and anticipate change, and to design successful platforms and places. As a studio it aims to reach beyond the design of objects themselves to the social, economic and environmental systems behind them.

Blackburn's Secret Garden Landscape

Studio Weave, in collaboration with landscape architects MESH Partnership, won the competition for a public space in Blackburn town centre as part of the international landscape competition, Pennine Lancashire Squared. Our entry was for a Secret Landscape Garden that the nearby buildings gather round, as if around a picnic blanket.

The site is a slightly unloved space to the rear of Blackburn’s shopping centre. It sits at the crux of a number of overlapping grids and has significant level changes that make it difficult to envisage as a formal civic space. Rather than remodelling it into a compromised version of a civic space, our approach was to celebrate its unique characteristics and encourage an expression of its inherent nature: a gallant, flourishing landscape, shared between a gathering of buildings.

The landscape doesn’t profess to be a slice of natural countryside but grows out from the urban fabric taking in rationalised traffic and accommodating level changes and desire lines, all the while delicately framing views of Blackburn landmarks side by side with new follies. We designed the landscape by exploring the adventure of a boy who finds a mirror on the floor of the shopping centre. The mirror is based on the ‘Claude Glass,’ an 18th century pocket mirror used by artists and tourists to capture picturesque views. In the mirror, the boy sees a secret landscape garden where the trees are enjoying their own versions of various playground games.

We worked with a book illustrator to develop the views and the personalities of different tree species and create a landscape garden full of journeys and adventures, like a collection of incidents in archetypal stories that are waiting to be discovered.

There was once a boy who found a pocket mirror on the floor of a shopping centre. It was small, quite plain, brownish-grey and oval. It opened and closed with a tiny gold clasp and tiny gold hinge. He opened it and peered inside.

The first time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

his own round brown eyes, his fluffy eyebrows, and his scruffy hair. As the mirror was so small, he couldn’t see much else, so he held it a bit further away. Now he could see the shopping centre behind him: bright glistening shops, people with bags walking back and forth on the shiny floor tiles, not quite slippy enough for a good slide. He snapped the mirror shut and examined the outside, wondering who it might belong to: probably some lady who used it to check her make-up, he thought. He looked around him, but nobody seemed to be looking for anything, so he opened it again, hoping for a clue that might lead to its safe return and possibly a reward for him?

The second time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

a very similar view to the first time. He held it over his shoulder so only a few wisps of his hair were in the image; mostly it was shopping centre, except, in the distance it looked as if there were trees growing between the shops. He checked behind him and everything seemed normal, but in the mirror, there was definitely grass and trees, and he even thought he could hear birds singing.

He walked slowly backwards and the trees became larger and larger until the whole mirror was filled with a green landscape with round plump hills, leafy trees, and soft dewy grass. He turned around to get a better look, but all he was faced with was the normal shopping centre. Confused, and a little excited, he turned back to the mirror.

The third time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

the landscape again, but this time, he noticed it wasn’t any ordinary landscape. Apart from it being an invisible landscape in a shopping centre, which was extraordinary enough, it looked very odd in other ways too. It was as if the trees had arranged their roots nicely into patterns. His sister had a dress with a very big skirt and whenever she wore it, to birthday parties or something, she would sit on the floor and spread the skirt out around her, smoothing it down and pretending to be a water lily. These trees reminded him of this.

He moved closer to get a better look. The patterns were very loopy and familiar. In fact, they were exactly like the doodles he sometimes drew in the margins of his exercise books: loops growing from loops growing from loops. In the back of his maths book, he had a looping doodle that filled the whole page, just like this. Had the trees been looking in his maths book? He went and sat down, (Where? On what?) then quickly got up again in surprise. Suddenly, he realised that he was in the landscape in real life! Had he gone through the mirror like Alice? It was still in his hand. Slowly, he brought it up to see.

The fourth time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

not the shopping centre, as he half expected, and slightly hoped, but a group of these doodling trees working together to make a big three dimensional doodle. It was made of the same doodling loops but much more complicated, with loops inside loops, and loops joined up to make bigger loops. All the loops together looked a bit like a sort of house. Still looking in the mirror, he walked slowly backwards again until he was very nearby, then reached one arm out behind him until he could feel the looping curls. He turned his head and there it really was.

There were five trees mingling their roots, making this structure together. He had an odd feeling that this was trees playing house. It reminded him of the playhouse in the school playground. There was a group of girls from his class that always played in it every break and when they had wet play they would sit together and draw pictures of the house, making improvements and arguing over whose drawings were the best. He supposed these trees were like those girls. He wondered if these trees wouldn’t let anyone else play, like those girls. He didn’t want to play house anyway, so decided to look in the mirror for a better game.

The fifth time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

A lake. He walked along a little path that followed the bank of the lake until he came to a small tree that was casting its doodles the short distance over a small stream. The boy knew and liked this game. He took a few steps back to get a good run up, then sprinted as fast as he could and jumped clear over the stream. Pleased with himself, he looked back at the little tree, half expecting some sort of cheer or something. But the tree paid no attention, so the boy continued along the path around the lake. Soon he came to a tree that was playing a similar game with two trees on the other side of the lake. The lake was quite wide at this point but the trees had managed to reach each other over it. The boy was impressed. He stepped gingerly onto the edge of the bridge made of doodles. It was firm and strong, so he walked onto it properly.

As he walked over the bridge, he brushed his hands along the loops. Some of them were very tight, presumably keeping the bridge in place. He was reminded of some other girls at school that liked to play cats cradle but he didn’t know how to play this properly with the girls so he didn’t expect he’d be able to play it with trees.

He continued his walk over the bridge towards a huge old tree that had decorated itself in grand trumpet-like flowers. There was one near the bottom that he thought would make a good seat, a throne even. He sat down and looked out at the view of all the trees playing their games with his doodles. He imagined he was the king of this weird and wonderful place.

After a while, the thought crept into his head that perhaps he ought to get back somehow. He didn’t know what time it was but he was supposed to meet his mum outside Boots at four o’clock. So long as he didn’t lose the mirror, he was sure he’d be able to come back next time they went shopping, so he stood up, turned around, and opened the mirror again.

The sixth time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

exactly the same view as he’d just been looking at with his own eyes. This was worrying. The mirror had always shown him something he couldn”t see in real life until he’d seen it in the mirror. He looked back and forth but it was definitely the same view. Inside the mirror it was a bit more like a postcard somehow, but it was basically the same. Was he stuck here?

Trying his best not to be frightened, he hurried along the path by the lake a bit then looked again: still the same. Almost running, he went further along and looked again: thankfully, this time it was different.

The seventh time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

round, firm, overlapping hills and a winding path squeezing between them. The view looked a lot like another one of his doodles. He had seen it on TV, on one of those art programmes that show you how to make pictures; how to draw a rolling hill landscape. First you draw the front hill in a curve in one quarter of the page, then the next behind that on the other side, then the next, then the next. Then you colour them all in, in darker greens nearer the back. Putting the mirror safely in his pocket, the boy hesitantly followed the winding path wondering what might be hiding behind the hills. After a moment he heard a scurrying behind him that made him jump. He spun around in time to see a squirrel dash up a tree. He realised he was behind the trees playing house. Feeling more secure, he took out the mirror again.

The eighth time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

the path he was walking along fork into two. The two prongs wound opposite ways around quite a steep hill. Around the middle of the hill, some older trees were knitting their roots together and pushing them uphill. At the top of the hill, the root-doodles all came together and shot up into the sky. He climbed up the hill. The roots had made a tall round tower with a circular hole in the middle and a staircase going up and up. Near the bottom were some arches, some big enough for him to fit through, others not. He climbed in through one of the bigger ones and started climbing up the staircase. He climbed and climbed but the top seemed impossibly far away and he was getting tired, so after a while he took out the mirror and arranged himself so he could look through the gaps in the looping roots at whatever was down below.

The ninth time he looked into the mirror, the boy saw…

that he was quite high up. Far down below he could see small little buildings looking up at him curiously, including a cafe he recognised. There was a square, with tiny tables and chairs arranged outside the cafe in one half, and grassy countryside with little trees like broccoli in the other half. The two halves blended gently into each other in the middle. He turned around to look at the mirror view in other directions but the mirror started to wiggle in his hands. Feeling unsteady, he looked down. It was a very long way. The mirror began to shake more violently. He grabbed the loops with one hand to stop himself from falling. The mirror shook harder and harder until he couldn’t keep hold of it with just one hand and then it whizzed up, up the tower, up into the sky, and disappeared.

Surprised, and shaking a little himself now, the boy looked around nervously. Everything was still there. He could see the trees with their doodle-games and he could see the cafe. He decided he’d better climb down and go to the cafe: then he’d know where he was.

Inside the cafe was a clock that read half past three. He still had half an hour before he needed to meet his mum so he searched in his pockets and found 97p. He used most of it to buy a big round cookie with Smarties on then went outside and sat at one of the tables. He looked at the blue Smartie in the middle of the round cookie on a round plate. He looked at the blue Smartie in the middle of the round cookie sitting on a round plate. He looked at the round plate on the square table on the paving stones. As he followed the paving stones with his eyes away from the cafe, they became greener. The moss growing between them became grass; the paving stones got further and further apart until there was only grass; the grass rose up into round hills; on top of the tallest hill was the tower with its stairs winding up and up. He could still see everything! Even without the mirror, even though he’d gone into the cafe and come back out again, it was all still there!

As he ate his cookie and admired the landscape, he imagined some new doodles. He squiggled a few on a napkin with a pencil stub before he could forget them: an obstacle course for playing marbles on and a tree house balanced on the tips of the top branches. Then he stuffed the napkins into his pocket, ate the last crumbs of his cookie and went off to meet his mum, his head full of brilliant ideas.