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Case Study 37 – Arcadia Nursery Play Garden

Name of building
Arcadia Nursery Garden, Edinburgh
Date Completed
August 2014
Building type
Nursery School Play Garden
Kings Buildings Campus, Edinburgh
Main contractor

Balfour Beatty

Arboricultural Clerk of Works
Blebo Tree Surgery (Adam Riedi)
Structural engineer
Applied engineering Design (AED)

2015 Highly Commended, Landscape Institute
2015 Winner, Education & Public Sector, The Wood
2015 Winner, Scottish Design Awards, Best
Educational Building
2015 Winner, Wood For Good/Forestry Commission
2015 RIBA Award for Scotland
2015 RIAS Award
2015 RIAS Award – The Best Use of Timber
2015 Zero Waste Scotland’s resource efficiency award


Timber Technologies

To take maximum advantage of the site it was necessary to build a large part of the garden within the root protection area of more than thirty mature sycamore trees. The Landscape Architect, with input from the Arboricultural Clerk of Works, developed a bespoke system for building timber structures under the mature trees without compromising tree health or the rooting structure.

The following timber structures feature in the gardens:

Scotlarch timber decking on bespoke tree friendly footings with pillars organised to avoid major tree roots;

A thirty metre long ‘treehouse’ with specially engineered elevated sleeper foundations allowing it to weave beneath existing mature trees. The development of this was a collaboration between the landscape architect, arboriculturalists and civil/structural engineers;

Curving timber wall to new public mini-square;

Living willow construction of formal circular stilted arbour;

Handmade timber play equipment in green oak and beech, including a staircase hand carved from one trunk, benches and stepping cubes.

Timber Related Features

The Landscape Architects have used high quality oak and Scottish larch, living willow and handmade timber play elements, contemporary forms and a playfulness with scale and enclosure. A series of gardens emerge that offer an elegant response to the historic setting, and innovative spaces for play and learning. Most importantly, the gardens are action packed and fun filled, showing you can use timber to create contemporary play spaces, without resorting
to standard and mass produced metal and plastic play furniture.

Background to the Landscape Design

Arcadia Nursery is a new nursery serving the staff and students at Edinburgh University. It is built on a prominent gateway site at the historic King’s Buildings Campus. The brief was to create an indoor/outdoor nursery with a free play philosophy – enabling children to choose what activities to do and which spaces to play in. The garden and building are a single facility – the garden as inspiring for children and staff as the building, both creating innovative, playful and exciting spaces.

The site planning and landscape design were undertaken by erz (landscape architects). The nursery building was designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects.

The design of the site plan seamlessly leads the child from the front door of the nursery right through the building and out into the garden – sight lines cut through the building on two main axes that are then boldly taken right through the whole site.

The timber construction of the building is carried forward into the landscape. In the formal gardens these axes are timber decks or bridges – they continue informally as the tree house, gateways and windows through the fencing, and as a series of focal points concluding with the willow arbor in the outlying meadow.

European Larch is a hard strong timber with an attractive warm reddish brown or terracotta colour with gold streaks, which fades to silver after prolonged

Beech wood is heavy and strong. It is normally a pale pinkish-brown colour. Older trees have deep, rich colour variations across their wide boards, and

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