Landscape Performance Benefits
- Reconstructed the historic soil profile, resulting a 99% success rate among approximately 76,000 newly-installed plants.
- Attracted over 250,000 visitors during the first 3 months of operation, and over 800,000 in the first 10 months of operation. Approximately 40% of total visitors in the first 10 months attended for programmed events.
- Provides a high level of visitor satisfaction with 95% of surveyed visitors reporting that they were satisfied and would recommend the Reserve to others or visit again.
- Stimulated interest in the Barangaroo district as evidenced by an increase in the number of followers on social media platforms from 6,318 in 2015 to 22,002 in 2016, a 250% increase.
At a Glance
PWP Landscape Architecture
Former Land Use
Barangaroo, New South Wales 2000
$249 million AUD/appx. $194.8 million USD
Located on Sydney’s foreshore, Barangaroo Reserve is a 14-acre urban park that forms part of a larger development on the edge of the city’s Central Business District. Named after a powerful indigenous woman who lived in Sydney Harbour, Barangaroo Reserve transformed a portion of a decommissioned container port to recreate the characteristic headland that previously graced the site, opening up an area that had not been accessible to the public for over 100 years. The park connects Sydney’s other primary harbourfront public spaces–Darling Harbour to the west and Circular Quay to the east–through pathways that form part of a larger ribbon to link cultural sites around the water’s edge. Sandstone bedrock, excavated during the construction of new buildings nearby, was repurposed to re-create the site’s 1836 pre-colonisation shoreline. A groundbreaking restoration process created a modern interpretation of the original terraced layers of the site’s native bush ecology, leading visitors down to the shore from extensive upper headland lawns. References to the site’s heritage are dispersed throughout, drawing attention to changes in use over decades including indigenous use, occupation by settlers, and industrial use as a container port.
- 48,000 cu yds of stepped sandstone blocks were quarried from the site and nearby building excavation and reused along a half-mile of the foreshore to create unique tessellated terraces stepping down to the water’s edge. The terraces mark the location of the 1836 foreshore and headland, a bluff gradually rising from the north and then terminating in cliffs along the water’s edge. This original topography was completely obliterated over the course of the site’s history, and the area was off-limits to the general public for more than a century. The terraces, which serve as a modern interpretation of the original headland, provide seating and passive recreation areas, encouraging visitors to spend time next to the water.
- As part of a unique design and implementation process, the quarried sandstone blocks are aligned with the area’s natural geological faultline. The installed sandstone blocks were oriented in a north-east to south-west direction, evoking weathering patterns found on Sydney’s exposed sandstone escarpments and reflecting the area’s natural faultline.
- Concrete footings ground the retaining walls that support the terraces, which are topped with a re-created soil substrate above a stratified layering of geotextiles, crushed sandstone fill, and geogrid. The terraces are connected by a series of relatively narrow staircases, allowing for an intimate relationship between visitor and landscape.
- Excavation of the existing sandstone on the site allowed for the creation of the Cutaway, an underground cultural center below the artificial headland landform created with the terraces. Above the center is a large lawn for public events.
- The sandstone excavation process also allowed for the creation of tidal pools among the terraces, breaking the experience of the entire site into smaller identifiable sections. These coves provide additional public access to the water and varied experiences along the foreshore walk.
- There are multiple headland lawns, with the largest, the Stargazer Lawn, occupying the highest position at the top of the headland. At 94,000 sf, it can accommodate up to 3,000 people for large-scale events.
- The site recreates the area’s native bush ecology, which is made up of 3 layers: a ground-plane layer of plants 1.5 to 6.5-ft tall, an understory of 16-ft plants to give the headland the distinctive form and character of existing Sydney headlands, and a canopy layer of trees 30 to 65-ft tall that form a series of cathedral-like spaces above the bush layers. The terraces form a series of micro-ecosystems including ridgetop woodlands, heath and scrub, open dry forest, tall moist forest, damp gully forest, and headland waterfront.
- Plantings on site include 75,000 native plants representing 83 species that are mostly native to the Sydney Harbour foreshore. These include 68,000 grasses such as long-leaved wallaby grass (Notodanthonia longifolia), 6,000 lomandras such as spiny-head mat-rush (Lomandra longifolia), 111 palms, and 500 trees including large angophoras, banksias, and Moreton Bay figs (Ficus macrophylla).
- All stormwater on-site is captured through an intricate system of bioswales at the base of each terrace level and pathway. Water percolates down to the drainage layer below the headland and is filtered through a 6,500-cf seepage tank and stored in a 42,000-cf cistern below the second level of the underground garage. All stormwater captured is used for irrigation throughout the site.
- The site incorporates 1.8 miles of walking paths and 0.7 miles of dedicated cycling paths. These paths complete a formerly missing link in a 8.7-mile path along the Sydney Harbour foreshore from Woolloomooloo Bay in the east to Jones Bay in the west.
The primary challenge faced by the landscape architect was to restore ecological and social function on a former headland that had been significantly altered to become a vast, flat, concrete container terminal that required significant environmental remediation. The design also had to ensure good connectivity to the rest of the city and acknowledge the indigenous history of the location while addressing cultural sensitivities around indigenous dispossession. Designers had to balance the preservation of existing industrial heritage structures with the environmental and aesthetic objective of recreating a naturalistic headland. These challenges were faced in the context of significant and ongoing controversies in the development process that were linked to the larger commercial precincts of Barangaroo Central and Barangaroo South, other segments of the Barangaroo redevelopment.
The designers referenced the 1836 shoreline and headland in the creation of a new water’s edge and constructed a series of stacked terraces to address the significant grade change between the foreshore and the ridgeline that connects back to the central areas of the city. This extensive excavation and subsequent fill also created opportunities for new connections to the existing eastern city grid with staircases and pathways. The design produced a contemporary interpretation of a naturalized headland that referenced the original form of the site while acknowledging its significant alteration over the course of its history from natural headland to container terminal. The new underground cultural center and large lawn area for large-scale public events host indigenous events and ceremonies. The designers worked around a maritime control tower (which was still in use and only demolished after construction of the park), and restored the heritage pumphouse at the northern end of the cove.
- The project’s design and construction process was not executed in a typical manner because the significant amount of site-quarried sandstone masonry for the shoreline and terraces could not be drawn or specified easily. As a result, on-site prototyping became the best option for testing stone selection based on color, natural texture, finish, and how individual blocks fit together. It was a process of trial-and-error that ultimately became the responsibility of the chief stonemason, working closely with the landscape architect. The majority of aesthetic decisions were made in the field and resolved with what had been written in the original contract months later. Although the project manager spent a lot of time attempting to refine written specifications to accommodate this on-site process, this proved to be very difficult, and a less legalistic approach was ultimately required.
- In addition to the challenges that arose with contractual specifications, working with site-quarried sandstone made the process slower than usual, taking around a month to complete while the stonemason worked to refine installation quality and techniques. However, in the long run this period of prototyping and refining led to more efficient installation for the half-mile of foreshore sandstone installation that followed.
- In an effort to create a naturalistic finish, the original intent was to water jet-spray the sandstone used on the shoreline. Because Sydney Harbour’s geological faultline is oriented at 20 degrees, designers realized that the sandstone blocks could be split along the natural fault, giving them a natural-looking edge that eliminated the need for jet-spraying.
- The Cutaway, a cavernous underground space and cultural venue located beneath the terraces and lawns, was initially intended to have a more sculptural form, but ultimately a more conservative approach towards the design and budget resulted in an aesthetic that actually invokes the industrial heritage of the site.
- The historic soil profile was recreated through the incorporation of crushed recycled sandstone from on-site quarrying, resulting in an innovative and unique soil strata. This soil restoration contributed to remarkable survival rates of new plantings with only 1% of the nearly 76,000 plants failing. These findings have been shared in two published research papers, and research on the soils is ongoing.
Retaining wall system: Magnumstone
Precast stone paving: Italian Porphyry Cobblestone
Wood benches, bike racks, and trash receptacles: StraBe
Pole lighting: Selux Lanova Light Poles modified with LED luminaires
Plants: Andreasens Green Nursery
Lead Landscape Architect: PWP Landscape Architecture
Landscape Architect: Johnson Pilton Walker
General Contractor: Lend Lease (formerly Baulderstone Pty Ltd)
Quarry Operation and Chief Stone Mason: Troy Stratti
Horticulturalist: Stuart Pittendrigh
Project Management: Advisian Pty Ltd
Soil Engineer: Simon Leake, SESL Australia
Construction Observation: Tract Landscape Architects
Civil and Structural Engineers: Robert Bird Group and Aurecon
Hydraulic Engineer: Warren Smith and Partners
Construction Management: Evans and Peck
Marine Engineer: Hyder Consulting
Geotechnical Engineer: Douglas Partners
Traffic Engineer: Halcrow
Lighting Engineer: Webb Australia Group
Wayfinding and Signage: Emery Studio
Historic Interpretation: Judith Rintoul
History and Arts: Peter Emmett
Landscape Contractor: Regal Innovations
Plant Procurement Nursery: Andreasens Green
Role of the Landscape Architect
The landscape architect acted as the lead landscape architect for the Barangaroo Delivery Authority, designing and delivering Barangaroo Reserve, which links with Barangaroo Central. The landscape architect also served in a coordination and review capacity for the Barangaroo South public domain. The firm led the public domain strategy for Barangaroo and collaborated with a multidisciplinary team which aimed to extend the impact of the design beyond the normal development constraints and to stimulate a series of new landmarks along the Sydney CBD’s western waterfront.
Case Study Prepared By
Research Fellows: Simon Kilbane, Andrew Toland, University of Technology Sydney
Research Assistant: Kane Pham, University of Technology Sydney
Firm Liaisons: Adam Greenspan, Partner; Marta Gual, Landscape Designer; PWP Landscape Architecture
Toland, Andrew, Simon Kilbane, and Kane Pham. “Barangaroo Reserve.” Landscape Performance Series. Landscape Architecture Foundation, 2017. https://doi.org/10.31353/cs1240