Image 20230620 121510 294

Castlefield Viaduct

Competition 2023

Inspired by the multi-layered historical narrative, ‘Castlefield in the Sky’ viaduct, brings to life an iconic part of Manchester, via a 1km stretch of green corridor – now a vibrant new home for both people and wildlife to thrive in.
Show info

Inspired by the multi-layered historical narrative, ‘Castlefield in the Sky’ viaduct, brings to life an iconic part of Manchester, via a 1km stretch of green corridor – now a vibrant new home for both people and wildlife to thrive in.


The 1893 Castlefield Viaduct is a 330m long, beautiful Grade II listed historic structure at the heart of Manchester. The National Trust, working with the community and Historic Railway Estate, developed a temporary sky park on the deck of the viaduct which was opened to the public in July 2022. A year on, they invited a short-list of Landscape Architects to design a new uninterrupted, elevated green corridor spanning 1 km along from Deansgate tram stop to Pomona Island. The corridor was to act as an active travel route, a place for people to stop and dwell as an iconic destination and a community space.

The vision for our competition entry was based on the observation that people and nature have thrived here before. The viaduct has layers of rich historical narrative with an abundance of built industrial heritage on show throughout the conservation area.

The National Trust
Landscape Architect
230621 Castlefield Illo
Castlefield Illustration
0050 0953 Eye Level Sketch Nest
The Nest - A spiralling accessible walkway through a wet wood tree canopy with habitat nesting boxes integrated throughout the structure. A playable and active route encouraging urban fitness and play for all ages with a spiralling slide, hill sprint challenge to the top of the nest and platform level play space.
3 Sleeper Gardens
Sleeper Garden - A garden inspired by re-wilded infrastructure. The resurgence of city nature following industrial decline and improved air quality. The garden integrates comfortable lounging spaces for people to relax (and sleep) Resilient native Brownfield planting using a variety of ballast types to promote a changing array and plant communities Strong Railway heritage throughout covering history and events for the 79 years the viaduct was an active line. 79 sleepers divide the different plant communities.
1 Victorian Botanical Gardens
Botanical Pleasure Garden - Colourful, structured garden, showcasing Victorian style planting inspired by the area’s botanical past, the garden includes space to entertain and exhibit and works with the layout set out in the pilot phase 1 space. Moveable track planters could enable a larger capacity event space and flexibility and open up more opportunities to look out through the lattice across Castlefield.
2 Rooftop Platform
Viewing Platform - Viewing platform with community room, flexible workspace and F&B provision below. A vantage point that allows visitors to appreciate the wider setting and city. A reason alone to visit the viaduct and see the sun set over the city’s dramatic skyline. A great place to hire after hours.
4 Young Emergent woodland
Young Emergent Woodland - Transitional habitat and planting, resilient and native, the start of something new… nature beginning to take over again and repair and replenish...
7 Climate Change Sidings
Climate Change Sidings - Using native and non-native plants within poor arid soils and gravels to reflect the changing UK climate and likely shift in micro-climate to conditions more akin to Macedonia! Integrated play and exercise on the way opportunities. Steppe style planting and stepped sleeper seating areas. Sand play associated with the dry soils these species are adapted to. Railway viewing areas to maintain a strong association between the viaduct experience and infrastructure.
5 Breathing bridge
Breathing Bridge - Inhalatorium over the Mancunian Way, creating space and conditions to breathe better in. Hawthorn wall and long linear seating to create a platform to de-stress. Climbing trailing plants inhabit a timber structure and create coolness and shade in the summer months and shelter in inclement weather beneath an articulated canopy. An F&B space or perhaps health and wellbeing themed tenant at the western end of the structure provides purpose from both East and West and occupies one of the most visible locations directly above the often-busy Mancunian Way. Community and private hire opportunities.


We proposed to balance past narratives with future narratives, resurrecting the ethos of Manchester’s lost botanical and pleasure gardens. Built to improve the health and wellbeing of city centre residents back in the 19th century, and heralded as the countryside without the need for a train journey. These gardens were the original accessible green lungs in the world’s first industrial city. There is an interesting circular story here but our competition design adds plenty of contemporary twists, iconic new additions, innovative layers of climate conscious and resilient horticulture and purposeful programme and uses to ensure people will want to visit again and again.

Our 6 design strategies were:

  1. A green corridor for people and wildlife
  2. Composition of 10 episodes across the viaduct
  3. Clear access points, movement routes and places to rest
  4. Punctuating the viaduct with architectural interventions
  5. Celebrating the heritage of the viaduct
  6. Programmed to provide activity throughout the day
Castlefield Viaduct Illustration
Axonometric of 'Castlefield in the Sky'


All too often planting design becomes a collage of block planting, where different species are arranged in neat and tidy groups, rather than integrated as they would be in nature.

For much of the Castlefield Viaduct, our approach to planting design aims to create sequences of plant communities similar to that which is found in nature.

Creating connected plant communities, where each individual plant thrives, is the first step to ensuring a sustainable approach to planting. Another key aspect of our planting approach is to consider how species will adapt to more extreme weather as a result of climate change. Ensuring plants are resilient to drought periods in particular will inform our plant selection whilst also reducing the requirement for high maintenance watering regimes.