After nearly ten years of planning and development, Barangaroo, a 22-hectare port on the Sydney waterfront, is coming together as a rich, $6 billion, mixed-use development that will fill in missing gaps in the city’s waterfront promenade and offer a stunning, one-of-a-kind park with an embedded Aboriginal cultural center. As Peter Walker, FASLA, PWP Landscape Architecture, described at the ASLA 2014 Annual Meeting in Denver, “it’s the most amazing project I’ve ever worked on.”
Walker explained how the original port had been “engineered to death.” Flat, covered in asphalt, and completely separated from the surrounding residential areas by a 60-foot cliff, the port had long severed parts of the city from the waterfront. PWP fleshed out a new landscape plan that dramatically improves connectivity to the water, while designing a new park that recalls the landscape early settlers would have seen.
Throughout Barangaroo, there will be a 50/50 split between buildings and parks. Headland Park, in the north, will be entirely green public space, while Barangaroo South will be entirely developed, with a new casino and a set of 40-story towers offering a mix of residential, commercial, and retail space.
In the middle, Barangaroo Central has an even mix of private development and parks. As Douglas Voight, SOM, explained, Barangaroo Central will feature a new set of “Sydney steps” that mimic Spanish steps, taking people down from the upper level at the top of the cliffs to the water. “There, we will introduce a civic element, a cultural space.” Views from Observatory Hill, one of the city’s best vantage points, will be protected, and the old building there will be made more accessible, so as to enable views “from water to stars.”
According to Brian ten Brinke, with the Barangaroo Delivery Authority (BDA), the goal of the Headland Park portion of the project was to replace the rectilinear edges of the port with the meandering, nature-carved shoreline of the 1700s. Examining maps from the early 1800s, they found a coastline they could recreate, which, amazingly, they did.
As PWP designed Headland Park, they also “established a design vocabulary for the whole precinct’s waterfront walk,” said Jay Swaintek, ASLA, PWP. From Headland Park all the way to Barangaroo South, “we engaged with the casino and building owners to ensure the foreshore worked for the public and read as public domain.”
Dave Walker, ASLA, also with PWP, then delved into the challenges of creating a naturalistic landscape where there was once flat asphalt. (This brief video enclosed of the construction process is really worth a watch):
First, they created a 60-foot cliff with the yellow sandstone found throughout Sydney, in order to recreate an edge that connects with the surrounding communities. “We married it up to the existing cliff face.”
All that height created an opportunity to build down within the cliff and create a new memorial and cultural center for Australia’s first inhabitants, the Aborigines. Walker said this was critical as for hundreds of years, “there was an apartheid-like situation” between the Aborigines and whites. Sunshine will trickle down into the building from gaps in the surface.
Park visitors will wind their way through a reconstituted bush landscape filled with Eucalyptus trees. Dave Walker said while these bush landscapes look quite dense from the outside, within, they offer a scrim with many views looking out. Parallel to a 2-meter-wide path through the bush and down the slope, there will be separate bicycle and pedestrian pathways that wind through.
Wrapping the shoreline are 10,000 rectangular, hand-carved sandstone blocks that recall patterns in remnant coastal landscapes. Organized into geometrical shapes, “these striated forms have a natural precedent,” said Dave Walker. Each GPS-tagged stone was individually set to create intricate patterns that connect with the nature. “In high tide and low tide, the transitional patterns change.”
With hundreds of trees being planted now, Headland Park is expected to open early next year. More and more of Barangaroo will also come online in the following few years. BDA is already expecting more than 12 million people a year to visit.