The South Ken Green Trail – welcoming people and nature on Exhibition Road

An algae factory, a nest-like timber mound and giant slices of a decommissioned wind turbine blade formed a series of new ‘green interventions’ on London’s Exhibition Road over the summer. Together they supported the post-pandemic recovery of London’s arts and science district, and demonstrated how plants, greenery and biodiversity can be creatively embedded in London’s public realm, reclaiming space for nature amidst the bustle of the capital.

The free-to-visit installations were in place until October 2021, alongside a walking trail connecting them with other planting and green spaces across the district. A downloadable trial map helped visitors to explore and discover hidden nature in the city, accompanied by activities and events providing inspiring ideas for a greener future.

Design teams were chosen as part of a competition organised by the London Festival of Architecture and Discover South Kensington. Each has worked with one of the three cultural partner institutions – the V&A, Science Museum and Goethe-Institut – to develop installations that inspired visitors to Exhibition Road, and to encourage them to further explore this welcoming, vibrant and diverse district. By bringing together leading design and current research in biodiversity and sustainability, the installations epitomised the area’s role in promoting debate and driving progress to address society’s most pressing challenges.

The Algae Meadow was been created by Seyi Adelekun and Wayward, in collaboration with the V&A, and working with specialists from UCL and Imperial College London. Visitors were able to meander through a vertical wildflower meadow that connected the architecture of Exhibition Road to the depths of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park through a hydroponic algae canopy. Standing outside the Natural History Museum, this installation was constructed from local, responsibly sourced and recycled material and is a community build project giving opportunities to London based students and volunteers from the Black Females in Architecture network.

In Home away from Hive at the Science Museum, Mizzi Studio created an organic, nest-like timber lattice, layered with medicinal and pollinating plants in consultation with garden designers from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Creating a link with Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries at the museum and Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Bee SuperHighway, the installation provided an immersive hive of discovery, education and biodiversity. Built by Firecracker Works, visitors could walk in and around the structure, whose undulations echo those of natural earth mounds and hives. Inside the structure, plants and daylight poured in to provide beautiful spaces for respite and care for insects as well as joy for visitors.

 Windflower outside the Goethe-Institut by Urban Radicals with Adam Harris had a modified and re-purposed decommissioned wind turbine blade bringing the scale and surprising beauty of this mega-structure into the city centre. It was planted with wildflowers to attract pollinators while allowing visitors to walk through, sit on or enjoy it.

The South Ken Green Trail drew on the cross-pollination of ideas for which London’s arts and science district is renowned, and represents an important opportunity to engage visitors and spark action as the UK prepared to host COP26 and co-ordinate global efforts to tackle climate change. Connecting with cultural partners’ programming around the summit, the Trail built on increased public interest in nature and green spaces since lockdown, and highlighted local biodiversity initiatives including Kensington and Chelsea Council’s Bee SuperHighway.

 As well as forming part of the London Festival of Architecture’s year-round programme of public realm interventions, the South Ken Green Trail was also part of the Kensington + Chelsea Festival, a season of fun, inspirational, surprising and extraordinary experiences across Kensington and Chelsea’s iconic venues and public spaces, funded by Kensington and Chelsea Council. Promoting this and other exciting events and activities taking place across the borough in parks, markets, museums and more, the Council ran its K&C Summer of Love campaign to celebrate the breadth of things to do and enjoy over the summer. The Green Trail installations remained in place until the Great Exhibition Road Festival in October. A free annual celebration of science and the arts in South Kensington and online, the Festival brings together scientists, artists, designers and innovators to discuss solutions to the climate emergency.

The South Ken Green Trail was delivered by Discover South Kensington in partnership with the London Festival of Architecture, V&A, Goethe-Institut and Science Museum, and was supported by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, Kensington and Chelsea Council, Westminster City Council, and the Let’s Do London programme. The Natural History Museum, The Royal Parks and Imperial College London helped to deliver the trail and events programme. The project was also made possible through the support of Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, who supplied the wind turbine blade, and idverde, who provided watering and maintenance for the installations.

 Rosa Rogina, Programme Director at New London Architecture and the London Festival of Architecture, said:

 “The South Ken Green Trail is one of the London Festival of Architecture’s most exciting and relevant projects ever. The three installations epitomise our mission to support design talent in London and enhance the city’s public realm in ways that are innovative and inspiring. More importantly, it has been a privilege for the LFA to play its part in supporting the post-pandemic recovery of the South Kensington arts and science district, and to enhance public understanding of urban biodiversity in the run up to the critical COP26 summit later this year.”

 Emily Candler, Executive Director, Discover South Kensington, said: 

“Our programme of outdoor activity and events brings arts and science bursting out into Exhibition Road. We want visitors to discover something new and follow the trail to discover South Kensington’s surprising green treasures. Responding to the climate crisis is a priority for all South Kensington’s arts and science organisations and a core focus for our collaborative public programming. The South Ken Green Trail connects to a fun and thought-provoking programme of exhibitions, artworks, talks, workshops and events happening across the district in the run-up to COP26. This project also celebrates the area’s garden heritage, while tapping into the renewed appreciation of urban nature that so many people have found during the lockdowns.”

John Tweddle, Head of the Angela Marmont Centre for Biodiversity at the Natural History Museum said:

“Insect pollinators, such as bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths might be small, but they’re mighty, and integral to both our health and that of the natural world that we rely on. Not only do they pollinate many of the food plants that are central to our nutrition, they play essential roles in pollinating many of the UK’s wildflower and tree species, which in turn provide vital habitats and food for other wildlife.

Yet, collectively, the UK’s insect pollinators are in real trouble, with the loss and fragmentation of suitable habitat, climate change and pesticide use putting many species under threat. We can all take positive steps to support pollinator numbers in the UK today.”

Cllr Elizabeth Campbell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council, said:

“Tackling climate change is the challenge of our times – exciting and innovative projects like this help our borough to be a leader in this area as we seek to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

For the full press release click here: south_ken_green_trail_press_release_july_2021.pdf

The South Ken Green Trail installations are now being moved to new homes including local schools and the Science Museum's National Collection Centre.

(Installation Images Credit: Luke O'Donovan)

South Ken Green Trail

Home Away from Hive
Home Away from Hive - in partnership with the Science Museum, designed by Mizzi Studio 

Algae Meadow
Algae Meadow in partnership with the V&A, designed by Seyi Adelekun with Wayward
Windflower by Urban Radicals – with the Goethe-Institut
Windflower by Urban Radicals, in partnership with the Goethe-Institut

South Ken Green Trail Map
South Ken Green Trail Map, credit: Carys Tait