Ballast Point Park
Landscape Performance Benefits
- Diverted 22,200 tons of construction waste from landfills, about twice the weight of the Eiffel Tower, by repurposing it for use in gabion retaining walls
- Incorporated 582 tons of coal power plant waste into concrete used throughout the site. The concrete mix includes waste fly ash and slag, aggregate, and ground slag.
- Saved 30,620 linear ft of virgin timber by using recycled Australian Jarrah hardwood for all timber used in the project.
- Provides waterfront access in a previously inaccessible area for local residents as well as non-local users, with 68% of 34 surveyed respondents reporting themselves as being from the area.
- Contributed to an over 50% increase in residential property values within a 500-yard radius.
At a Glance
Former Land Use
4 Ballast Point Rd
Birchgrove, New South Wales 2041, Australia
Located on the Birchgrove Peninsula in Sydney’s inner harbour, Ballast Point Park is a contemporary, award-winning waterfront park that deeply engages with the site’s multilayered past. This history encompasses original indigenous habitation, colonial use as a ballast quarry for ships, serving as a home for early settlers, and finally service as an oil terminal from the 1920s until 2002. These combined historical narratives are acknowledged and referenced in the new park through 11 distinct interpretive locations where visitors may pause and consider the site’s history through signage and material references to the site’s industrial heritage. Ballast Point Park’s design was driven by a desire to maximize sustainable design principles and innovative features and to faithfully recreate a complex native environment, which involved developing an endemic planting palette, prioritizing on-site material recycling, reducing transportation and waste, and managing stormwater runoff before discharge into the harbour. The result is a revitalised space that engages visitors through varied landscape zones and historical references while drawing them to the previously inaccessible water’s edge in Sydney’s inner harbour.
The designers faced the challenges presented by incorporating a strong sustainability agenda within a multilayered site with significant historical value. In addition, uncertainties about the shape and structural stability of the landform (composed of unpredictable zones of sandstone and topsoil) and industrial contamination provided both barriers and opportunities for the pursuit of sustainable and novel design outcomes.
The landscape architects wove ideas of history and sustainability through the landscape in a variety of innovative ways. The site’s past use as a quarry for mining ballast inspired the creation of gabion walls with the “modern ballast” of construction rubble, which reduced the need to import material to create retaining walls. Recycled timber was used for site furnishings, and industrial waste from the former coal power plants was used in the production of recycled concrete. Industrial relics such as the existing fuel tanks were reinterpreted and reconfigured in novel ways to create a commentary on the post-industrial age. As former storage facilities for fossil fuels, the fuel tanks represent past, unsustainable use of resources. The design concept integrated technology and sustainable energy production into these antiquated structures in the form of wind turbines in an effort to illustrate the move forward to a more sustainable future. The uncertainties about the shape and structural stability of the landform required a design and construction process that allowed flexibility throughout, leading to novel solutions such as the integration of sandstone and incorporating rubble elements throughout the site.
- The footprints of former oil tanks were reinterpreted as raised and sunken lawn areas. The original concrete seawall of the former industrial facility was retained as a design feature, creating a sense of enclosure and semi-privacy within the sunken lawn spaces.
- Retaining walls were constructed from reinforced earth using soil sourced on site. The walls are faced with gabion baskets containing recycled building rubble and contrast with the site’s quarried sandstone outcroppings and cast-in-place concrete walls.
- Recycled timber was sourced from garbage dump sites to create park furniture.
- Recycled seatbelt straps were dyed yellow and used to create shade structures for picnic areas.
- The recycled concrete elements of the site such as ramps, slabs, and sections of the viewing terraces incorporate recycled industrial waste, including fly ash and aggregate as well as ground slag drawn from coal power plant waste.
- Eight 1kW vertical axis wind turbines were integrated into panels within the largest storage tank, Tank 101, which was preserved from the site’s previous use as an oil terminal. Integrating the wind turbines into the tank reduces the tank’s perceived scale and helps to promote the idea of sustainable energy generation to park visitors. Tank 101 is also a work of art, with a poem by Australian poet Les Murray cut into it: “Stone statues of ancient waves, tongue like dingoes on shore.”
- A 13-ft-high concrete sculpture called “Delicate Balance” by local artist Robyn Backen is another public art installation on the site.
- Stormwater previously discharged into the harbour is now redirected to water-sensitive cleansing basins.
- Endemic plants such as grey she-oak (Casuarina glauca), Sydney golden wattle (Acacia longifolia), and spiny-headed mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia) were grown from locally sourced seeds and planted extensively across the site. Due to their adaptation to the local climate, these species require less water and maintenance than exotic species while attracting native wildlife to the park. Grassed areas were minimised to reduce the need for irrigation.
- During the site remediation process, the remains of the colonial-era “Menevia” house were discovered. These remains have been retained as a heritage feature.
- Park maintenance specifically contracts a company that hires employees with disabilities to perform maintenance tasks at the park.
- As the former largest storage facility for fuel on the site, the repurposing of “Tank 101” as a site for renewable energy generation was a clear statement of the transition from the consumption of fossil fuels to the production of renewable energy. Initial modelling was conducted with early calculations from the wind turbine suppliers suggesting that they would perform to supply the full energy requirements of the site. Unfortunately, the wind turbines could not deliver the projected energy output due to a combination of the landforms funnelling wind over and around the wind turbines, exacerbated by the rusting of some moving parts due to the salt spray from the harbour. The constructed landforms proved detrimental to the effectiveness of the wind turbines, which would have required an inverter to work under these conditions. An inverter was not installed due to limitations of the project budget. Utilizing new technologies was recognized as a risk of the project.
- The designers anticipated no need for irrigation because only endemic plant species and drought-tolerant grasses were planted on-site, so no irrigation systems were initially installed . However, several years after construction, irrigation had to be installed for the main grass terraces due to higher-than-expected levels of use.
- A truly sustainable cradle-to-cradle approach was in practice more expensive to implement than certain conventional processes. For example, the on-site processing of waste was more expensive, so site demolition materials that were to be reused were sent off-site to a processor, with other recycled materials being sent back to the site.
- The client, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA), was a state government body with a mission to provide a park of regional significance. In an effort to involve the local community, participatory engagement was incorporated into the design process. This engagement, however, may have been conducted too early in the process, resulting in the master plan for the park being overly shaped by input that considers the park to be a mostly local amenity rather than a regional draw. If a range of scenarios had been developed for wider exhibition and a broader range of stakeholders engaged, a more regionally-significant park may have been the outcome, and the park would have more visitors from outside of the neighbouring area. Still, in addition to attracting many local users, the use of the park as a backdrop for magazine photo shoots and weddings is indicative that it does hold some broader appeal as a cultural contribution to the city as a whole.
Seating: Custom designed by McGregor Coxall
Furniture installation: Emerdyn Street Furniture
Planting: Toolijooa Nursery
Timber decking and Tank 101: Fleetwood Engineering
Landscape Architect: McGregor Coxall
Contractor: Landscape Solutions
Civil, Structural, Hydraulic, and Electrical Engineering: Northrop Consulting Engineers
Environmental Graphics/Wayfinding: Deuce Design
Quantity Surveyor: WT Partnership
Irrigation Consultant: HydroPlan
Lighting Consultant: Lighting Art+Science
Public Art: Robyn Backen
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect inherited the previous master plan developed by a collective of design and consulting firms. The ideals and vision were retained by the landscape architect, although significant design changes were made partly due to the physical uncertainties on the site. While leading and collaborating with the rest of the project team, the landscape architect undertook project management, design development, construction documentation, and administration of the construction contract.