Design Brief for Revitalising Worcester’s Green Heart
Currently, Church Square is the public open space jewel in Worcester’s crown. However, it is not being properly utilised, maintained and the landscaping is stark, ad hoc and extremely disorganized. It does not provide an ideal environment for residents or tourists.
Worcester has four distinct seasons. Often, summers are exceptionally hot and winters can be cold by South African standards, with wind a common occurrence in Worcester almost year-round. The lack of shelter within the square keeps its utilisation minimal.
The extreme openness of the square is good for sightlines to Worcester’s architectural centerpiece, the Mother Church. However, this openness is not good for much else, leaving the square a stark, uninviting and underutilised public open space.
High Street has been planted extensively with Sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua), providing an autumnal explosion of colour in the CBD. These trees, although at home in our clay soil and seasonally extreme climate, have remained somewhat restricted to the newer, better kept, town core.
Currently, the majority of trees on the square are the highly adaptable, but aesthetically unremarkable Cottonwood trees (Populus wislizenii); other mature trees are English Oaks (Quercus robor), Coral Trees (Erythrina caffra) and London Planes (Platanus x acerifolia).
The Church & Sight Lines
The Mother Church is both the anchor of the square and the architectural centrepiece of Worcester. Although an open square does not provide shelter or prime urban habitat, it is necessary to maintain the character of the current square and to maintain the important sight lines between the Civic Centre, High Street and the Mother Church.
To maintain this important aspect of Church Square, a sightline corridor of a minimum width of 90m is created in the centre of the square. This sightline corridor widens at both the north and south ends of the square, becoming wider towards Church and High Streets respectively. This allows one’s eye to be “channeled” towards both ends, particularly from High Street towards the Mother Church and Brandwacht Mountains beyond. This creates a wide panoramic window, through which once views Worcester’s architectural and scenic marvels.
All trees and plants within this corridor are not large. None reaches a height exceeding 5m. This maintains the sightline, but provides some shelter and some aesthetic enhancement in an otherwise, stark section of the urban open space.
The only tree species in this corridor are Cherry-Plums (Prunus cerasifera nigra). They are species of very modest height and spread; however are very aesthetically noteworthy, due to their spring through autumn purple foliage and profuse fragrant, pink, spring flowers. They are also highly adaptable to site requirements and are of the most drought resistant ornamental Prunus-genus species.
Anchoring the northern axis of the plain between the Mother Church and the Garden of Remembrance, Church Place is the only paved open space within the square. This maintains the heritage value of it being a grassed square, but provides a 50mX50m gathering place for locals, tourists, musicians, buskers and business-people in the heart of the urban open space. This space also affords the space for small concerts and other arts events.
Central to Church Place is a quiet water feature, which mirrors the ponds of the Garden of Remembrance and provides tranquility. Its length towards the Mother Church draws one’s eye towards this architectural anchor.
Flanking the paved space is a combination of indigenous Reed-leaf Strelitzias (Strelitzia juncea) and Thatching Reed (Elegia tectorum). The Strelitzia is a South African floral symbol. King Protea, our official national flower could not be used, as it needs well-drained, silica-rich, montane soil to thrive. Both species reach between 1.5m and 2m in height and are very structurally aesthetic species, with upright, pointed spike-like leaves. These upright forms mirror the church spire.
Five, rare, indigenous Eastern Cape Cycads (Encephelartos altensteinii) flank the Cypress Church Approach on both the east and west sides of the upper paved square. This maintains the South African, yet architecturally structured look of the species near this square.
Mirroring the mature Italian Cypresses (Cupressus sempervirens) within the Mother Church grounds, an avenue of these stately, upright trees lines the approach to the Mother Church. Again, their form is congruent with the church spire and their species is synonymous with old churches in many Western Cape towns. Their extremely narrow growth habit does not inhibit the sightline, but instead draws your eyes towards it and augments the church’s towering stature.
Baring & Adderley Streetside Avenues
As previously stated, the Breede Valley Municipality has already been choosing the Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) as the species of choice along newer storefronts in the Worcester CBD. For continuity sake, these trees are used along the parking and associated avenues of Adderley and Baring Streets. However, these trees can attain a great height and size, thus here they are pushed back to the park-side of the pedestrian lane.
To augment the characteristic feature of orange/red/purple autumn foliage of Sweetgums, the highly adaptable and pollution-tolerant Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba) is planted alongside the Sweetgums. These trees are the oldest known trees to still be in existence. All other species of this genus only exists in fossil records. Also, these primitive conifer-relatives have bright, golden-yellow autumn foliage, contrasting beautifully with the Sweetgums.
On the street-side of the pedestrian lanes, Trident Maples (Acer buergerianum) are planted. They are upright growing, relatively compact and have non-aggressive roots that will not interfere with parking, underground infrastructure or paving. They also sport remarkable autumn colouring, are an excellent shade tree, wind-tolerant and are the most drought hardy of the Acer-genus.
High Street & Market Row
To maintain continuity with current plantings between Baring and Fairbairn Streets, Sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are maintained as the streetside tree of High Street. Changing species and order here will create disharmony in the urban environment.
Behind these, within the proposed (phase 2) Market Row section, indigenous trees are brought in to provide shelter as well as aesthetic enhancement to the area. Species include the ubiquitous White Stinkwood (Celtis africana) and the less-common, but compact and beautiful Mountain Syringa (Kirkia wilmsii). Both are drought-resistant, both adaptable to soil-type and both sporting autumnal colour, despite their South African origins. Behind these, our national tree, the Real Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), is planted. The reason Breede River Yellowwood (Podocarpus elongatus) is not used, is it is not conducive as a park tree, as it tends to remain small and shrubby with no clear bole, providing little shelter.
Within the Phase 2 scheme, barrows will be built to house a formalised and neat informal market, providing opportunities for those not within the mainstream economy and providing shopping opportunities for residents and tourists alike. The square must become multifunctional.
Arcing Oak Avenues and Corner Avenue Approaches
These mirrored oak avenues provide the frame for the aforementioned panoramic window from High Street to the Mother Church. They arc inwards from the corners of Adderley-High and Baring-High Streets. This draws one’s eye towards the Mother Church and Garden of Remembrance. Oaks are used as the symbol of the quintessential Winelands town and ever present part of the historic cores of Western Cape towns.
Here two species are used: the Pin Oak (Quercus palustris), prized for its fine conical form and russet to red autumn colour. The other, the Turkey Oak (Quercus cerris) is used to replace Van Der Stel’s original Cape-synonymous English Oak (Quercus robor), which is susceptible to heart-wood rot in our climate. This oak specie still has similar, stately aesthetic characteristics and has bronze-brown autumn colour. Both oaks are relatively drought-hardy and are unexacting in their soil requirements. Both have shown remarkable wind-resistance.
The approach avenues are augmented with the planting of additional Cherry-Elm (Zelkova serrata) trees. This specie is exceedingly rare in South Africa, but is an outstanding aesthetic tree, has a stately vase-shaped form and often sports bright crimson-bronze autumn colour. They are also quite adaptable and are used often overseas as an urban-beautification tree.
At the small squares flanking the Garden of Remembrance, all avenues either truncate or open-up to reveal sweeping vistas of the Mother Church, mountains and Church Place; here the Cherry-Elms end, Cherry-Plums frame the northern end and truncate and the oak avenue opens up.
Alcoves & Indigenous Tree Showcase
On west and east flanks of Church Place, quiet and secluded spaces provide the tranquility of the alcoves. Each alcove is surrounded by two concentric circles of our best aesthetic indigenous trees. The inner circle is the “spring-flowering ring,” the other circle, the “autumnal ring.”
The inner ring sports our two brightest spring showstoppers, the Coral Tree (Erythrina caffra) with its bright scarlet spring flowers and the Wild Pear (Dombeya rotundifolia); this compact tree is adorned with white blossoms and blooms concurrently with the Coral Tree. This provides a remarkable bright space in spring and lovely, dappled shade in summer in the alcoves’ seating area. Both species are extremely adaptable and drought-hardy.
The outer ring boasts South Africa’s best autumn foliage trees. Both rings have White Stinkwood (Celtis africana), with its pale yellow autumn foliage and lime-green spring leaves. In between the Stinkwoods, in the northern arc, River Bush-willows are planted in between. These trees are compact, well-formed, drought-resistant and sport red to purple autumn foliage that persists well into winter. Between the Stinkwoods in the southern arc, White Syringa (Kirkia acuminata) is planted, this probably the brightest of our local autumn colour trees, ranging from gold to red and purple. Also, this tree is resistant to drought however it is large and not suited for planting in tight spaces.
Two tree groups feature in the gaps in open-spaces within the treed flanks of the square. Each has a Himalayan Cedar (Cedrus deodara) as a blue-green evergreen centrepiece, ringed with a group of four, rare but aesthetically spectacular Scarlet Maples (Acer rubrum). These fast growing, adaptable trees are slightly drought resistant once established, but sport bright autumn foliage and delicate, red, late-winter flowers. These trees are also the park anchors, at Adderley-Church and at Baring-Church, as well as the feature tree anchors at the proposed Baring Place on High Street.
Three London Planes (Platanus x acerifolia) complete the arcing panoramic frame in the north, begun in the south by the oak avenues. These trees, although unremarkable in the foliage colouring, have an attractive bark, are undemanding in their requirements and stately structure and are part and parcel of Worcester’s tree heritage. Also, many of these trees are planted in western Church Street, thus their usage on north Church Square to create continuity.