The area around King’s Cross station in north central London is a perpetual hive of activity. For example, the new Google HQ is under construction, and the transmogrification of Coal Drops Yard from a fuel dumpster from the days of steam trains into a fashionable shopping emporium and restaurant extravaganza was completed last autumn. Among the other modern additions is the Aga Khan Centre, a celebration of Muslim culture designed by an oriental architect, Fumihiko Maki from Japan, located in a western city with an extraordinarily cosmopolitan culture.
The centre is the home to three organisations run under the auspices of the Aga Khan but we’re looking at the horticultural elements of the structure, a 35-metre tall building only a five-minutes walk from the platforms at King’s Cross and/or St Pancras stations. Gardens occupy an esteemed place in Islamic architecture, and here there are several miniature masterpieces to enjoy. On a day with better weather than the one of our visit the views out across Hampstead Heath to the north and over the city to the south would have been spectacular but given the general gloom on the weather front we made do with enjoying the building.
There are six places to focus on. First is the inaptly named Garden of Tranquillity, on the ground floor. I say that because at present, or at least when we were there, it was anything but tranquil; more like a construction site. This one would be best appreciated in a year or so once work in the immediate surroundings has been completed. The Terrace of Learning has been inspired by the cloisters and courtyards of Spain, Morocco and Egypt. The Courtyard of Harmony features a three-sided room and pomegranate trees. The Garden of Light may remind you of the grounds of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain, if you have been fortunate enough to have seen them, while the Terrace of Discovery is an elegant column-free balcony which highlights the view over King’s Cross. Finally, on the rooftop is the Garden of Life, which is pictured on the home page, where the flowing water is reminiscent of the traditional Mughal gardens. Aside from the understated beauty of the whole experience, you come away admiring how much they have managed to fit into such a comparatively cramped, vertical space.
Tours of the Aga Khan Centre take place on Mondays and Thursdays at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. You can call (020) 7756 2700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation. Given the small size of some of the gardens the numbers of visitors permitted each time is, perforce, limited so you will need to book in advance. But once you’re in, the visits are free!