Designing a garden for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was as much a challenge as it was an honour. To take the immense and noble mission of the CWGC, and find a way to reflect and communicate that in such a small space, was no easy task.

The Commission’s purpose is commemoration and remembrance, providing sites in 154 countries across the world where people can go to reflect and pay their respects to the 1.7 million soldiers who gave their lives in the two world wars. These cemeteries and memorials, an incredible 23,000 locations in all, are maintained with tremendous care and dignity by the CWGC.

The Centenary Garden is designed to be a small area set aside within a larger cemetery or memorial site. It is somewhere to pause after visiting the memorial and reflect quietly on what you have seen, appreciating the life and freedom we now have thanks to those who sacrifices their lives.

With that in mind, I wanted the space to feel enclosed and protected, shielded from outside noise and commotion as much as possible. I also wanted it to capture something of the grandeur of some the memorial sites, and I needed to stretch all of the arts of optical illusion to make the small space feel larger than it is.

(Scroll through plans)

I wanted the entrance to make a strong impression, so I designed a large arched gate in the shape of a wreath (the wreath has great significance to the Commission and in many war grave sites).

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Peering into the garden from the front, you look through the stems of multi-stemmed acer trees to see a field of round-headed flowers, representing the multitudes of men on the battlefields. As you enter through the gate you walk up steps onto a central platform which lifts you up into the boughs of the trees, shielding you even more from the outside world for a few moments of solace and thought.

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In the centre of the platform sits a round wooden seat, carved from 100 year-old oak by the Commission’s carpenters in Belgium, and featuring the CWGC crest at its centre.

To the left and right, nestled amongst the planting, are two weathered statues of Navy soldiers that stood for decades at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Looking to the back wall of the garden you will see a great circular mirror set in the hedge, which allows you to reflect on yourself within the garden setting, and your life within the greater strand of history that was steered by the lives of these young soldiers.

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Finally, the railing which surrounds the platform features trees of wrought iron, and hanging from the branches are 154 hand-crafted leaves to represent each of the countries, spread across 6 continents, that holds a CWGC cemetery or memorial site.

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