7 key components from Barangaroo Reserve

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So what makes Barangaroo Reserve so special and unique and why is it my favourite place in Sydney? Barangaroo Reserve creates an environment that you want to inhabit. It allows people to experience the landscape, water and allow the enjoyment of other people all within beautiful setting. Already this place has created a lushness to Sydney’s coastline that will be stored in my memory bank. Will it be stored in yours?

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Early in October 2015, my wife and I went to Sydney for the weekend with no kids. It felt like we were young adults again. As we didn’t have the kids we were free to constantly stroll and do the typical tourist things. As a tourist we walked around the following places including Hyde Park Noddle Market, Royal Botanical Gardens, Woolloomooloo Bay, Mrs Macquarie’s Bay, Farm Cove, Art Gallery of NSW, King Street Wharf, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour and most of the CBD.

The best place that we visited and has clearly stuck in my memory was a new park in inner Sydney called Barangaroo Reserve. This new park is positioned on a headland just to the side of Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is located between Darling Harbour and Hickson Road.

When I was there I was visualising it previous use. A concrete platform that was used to store shipping containers. A derelict and underused part of Sydney that was shut off to the public for more than 100years.

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I believe this park is not only a landscape architects dream, it is a city dream, except it is not a dream, and real. This place will only get better with time. This place is what the landscape architecture profession needs to aspire towards when we considering how to design for a city.

Below, I’m going to talk about 7key principle components that I learned from Barangaroo Reserve site visit and some additional research. Also why these lessons are so fundamental to landscape design and the success of this space. Some of these components aren’t necessary visually obvious, but deep down they’re fundamental. These topics include soil profile, levels, using unused space, water edge, rocks, lushness, planning and then finally events and use.

Soil profile

The first component I will start with is the soil. Why is this component so important? Also why did I organise my trip to this park based on what I heard during a presentation?

Earlier in the year 2015, I attended a soil presentation attended by other landscape architects professional. The presentation was conducted by soil experts. These professional detailed and explained how they tested site soil and worked out what they could use from it.

They took field trips around the areas and studied local sandstone cliffs. They noted this would have been the previous profile without human interference. Then from their field trip results, they mimicked the soil profile from sandstone cliffs at Barangaroo. They developed a recipe to recreate the soil profile. This recreation of the soil profile help to determine the best plant selection which allowed for optimum plant growth. From their images it appeared they got soil and the recipe right, which allowed for phenomenal plant growth.

Needless to say I was intrigued by what they showed me. So basically, if your soil is not correct from the start, then you’re going to have issues. Even though this is something you don’t necessarily see it is one vital component for any landscape design. 

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Another component that was noted during the presentation was levels. In particularly how they dealt and managed to reduce the steepness of the site. This topic for me is interesting as it something I deal with daily. During the presentation they shown typical cross sections through the site. The engineered approach was shown along with how the landscape architects adjustment to soften it. However, for me the only way to really experience levels at this site is to go there.

When I went to the site, I notice there was an obvious steep grade from the top of the hill or look out down to the bottom (shared path or waters edge). They overcome this challenge through utilising massive rocks. These rocks absorbed the grade and made the grade safer especially for maintenance and plant installation.

Also during the site visit I noticed potential an underlying design thought process. The perimeter shared paths has a slight grade and increase in height from the bottom all the way to the top. Over a long distance the path network managed to climb as an estimable height of 25m.

This grade change is often referred to as DDA. This grade makes the path suitable for people with disabilities or elderly to comfortable walk unassisted along the surface. I believe they team that worked on this design understood the levels clearly for this site. The gradual grade incline has helped to potential determine the maximum finished surface level for the lookout area. Also the grade incline has help to establish a new space beneath the lookout. The grade incline placement has been done in a way that you don’t even notice you are going up a hill. The grade incline opened up a potential unused space for the site.

Levels are an important component to understand in landscape design. It enables you to work out your design and deliver hidden value to your unused space. Places that are perceived not to hold value which are steep, maybe be crafted or shaped, so you tap into it and find the hidden gems.

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Using Unused Space

At Barangaroo they have used the unused space beneath the look out area very well. They have turned the unused space into an assist in it’s own rights.

From some internet research, I believe during construction of the site they had quarried the rock from the site. Typically, with quarry excavation works becomes a vast space. I believe the team understood this principle and wanted to turn this space into something more useful and prescribed.

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When I was at site looking at where they quarried. They designers had turn they quarried space into a vast underground arts space. The space was large. As a guess I would say around 150m in length, 25m high and 50m wide. The use of a basic concrete material was used entirely for the underground space. It provided a real contrast to the outside sandstone rocks and landscape.

The quarried or unused space for me had a very similar feel to an oversized carpark or even an exhibition space. In this space I could simple imagine 5-10 thousand people occupying comfortable within space. In this space they would be out from the rain and elements.

The longer I stayed in this space the more it a had a cathedral feel e.g high ceilings and big and open planning. I thought is this a place of modern day worship, maybe, expect it’s materiality is not as refined to what you would expect in these buildings.

The space at the moment is very dynamic in terms of art and culture. Inside this space were 5 x 20’ containers and movie projectors. The movies were showing historic movies and audio of the space. They were projecting onto the concrete walls and on the inside of the containers. I estimate this dynamic culture and installation may change with season. Something new will pop in and take its place.

This space was in a very strong contrast to the outside space. The design team must have made a careful design decision. Maybe they didn’t want this space to take away from the beautiful landscape outside. This space can be cloaked with any program to make it take on a new appearance. Also this space is a great place to get out of the heat.

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Waters Edge

As I walked around Sydney’s waterfrontage a noticed there aren’t many good opportunity to get to the waters edges. At one point when we were walking near Woolloomooloo Bay. I skipped over the fence, traversed down some slipper rocks and got to the water. A quick look around the rocks and noticed some pippies and mussel shells. I took a quick a selfie and moved on as I felt I was doing something I wasn’t meant too. For me to achieve this moment, I needed to get off the walking track and make a small amount effort.

Banagaroo reserve rocks allows for you to get down to the water edge without making you feel uncomfortable from other park users. Once your at the water edge level I experienced a tactile soothing quality. When the water movement lapse onto the rocks, it act like a giant water feature. This closes to the water makes you feel like your the only person in the park taking in this scene. Except your not the only person, the park is full! This closeness give you a special connection to water and want to appreciate and respect it more.

I personal think it is great to see the moss coating over the newly positioned rocks. This moss is beautiful and highlights the tidal movements. You don’t get to experience this with a solid wall.

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I believe they quarried 10,000 stones from the site. Then they used them to recreate pre settlement waters edge, which allows people to experience Sydney’s water. The rocks were mostly smooth edges with chipped top faces. All the rock had varied height. None of the fall height were greater than 900mm. The rocks at waters edge had moss growing on them. Interestingly, to deal with water safety they had life buoy every 20m instead of fencing the edge. I love this safety in design approach as opposite to putting up a fence around the water edge.

All the rocks that were used to build the batters along the waters edge and the hill and slope have been sourced from the site. So this site and design has a very low carbon footprint. The rocks were skilfully prepared by stone masons. Some where chipped and some were sawn. Each was individual layed. Each rock has character and presence. These rocks are something that make this space quite exciting and pleasurable to be in. These rocks create really strong event and unplanned programmes to emerge. Some people site, some kids jump from one to the next, the more youthful kids jump between many rocks over a big distance. All these things happened on my visit. These rocks provide a great opportunity for active use or simple to watch over the water.

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From some research at Barangaroo Reserve they indicted they have planted over 75,000 plants. The planting palette was inspired by pre settlement. Upon my visit all the planting was performing incredibly well and was provided a nice green lush slope. This slope was highly visible from many parts of Syndey.

A clear observation of the planting on site was they used different planting mixes depending on the slope face. For the northern slopes you will tend to see more of the native grasses, Eucalyptus trees and Banskias. These are typical more drought tolerant and hardy. To the west and southern side of you would typical find lush ferns interplanted with Australian native plants. The planting responds to solar orientation and how it faces the world. Typically, if you don’t acknowledge this, you be specifying plants to the wrong location. Get the recipe right and you will get great results.

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Events and use

Outside the underground areas were some food trucks, music performers, soft lawn, shared path etc. This area had a massive stream of people using the space enjoying Sydney’s waterfront and the beautiful sunshine. I could spend all day here.

Because of the premium location of this park within Sydney and on the waterfront the cost to install and maintain would be high. The park needs to pull its own weight to make it self-sufficient. I have read that soon this space will have some commercial interest similar to Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney. When you have weddings or large events then you will need to pay to use the space. This creates a revenue stream to offset the management maintenance costs for the park. Making the park more sustainable in the long run.

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