The Barangaroo project on Sydney Harbour has already attracted a huge amount of publicity, a great deal of it negative. The mention of the name conjures images of a shiny multi-storey casino for high rolling overseas gamblers. However, this has unfortunately overshadowed (yes I did go there) the amazing landscape project that has been created that will extend the public’s access to the Sydney Harbour foreshore adjacent to the western side of the Harbour Bridge.
Barangaroo Point Park is named for an influential Aboriginal woman who was associated with Bennelong, for whom Bennelong Point, the site of the Sydney Opera House is named. It is a fitting tribute to a woman who is described in historical literature as:
“a powerful woman of great integrity and resilience”
who appears to have had some influence over Bennelong. She had strong beliefs and was not easily swayed, drawing comment on her ‘fierce and un-submissive character’ that she displayed regularly.
The scale of this project is the first thing that struck me on arriving at the site at a recent preview in advance of the official opening. The site is still very much a construction zone in the areas labelled Central Barangaroo and Barangaroo South. However, from a horticultural point of view it is the 6 hectare Barangaroo Point Park that holds most interest and it is the most advanced part of the landscape project over the whole 22 hectare Barangaroo site.
The terraced gardens there feature spectacular harbour views to the west as well as good views east to the Harbour Bridge from the northern end. It will provide new harbour foreshore public pedestrian areas that will be part of a 14km Sydney Harbour walk from Woolloomooloo to the Anzac Bridge and that will also reconnect the central business district to parts of the Harbour that have been industrial sites for generations.
The landscape design has taken a bold step in attempting a naturalistic recreation of the vegetation and plant communities that existed before European settlement, a particularly ambitious goal on a site that has been degraded and polluted by two centuries of all sorts of industrialisation. Some 75,000 plants ranging from tubestock to transplanted semi-mature Port Jackson and Moreton Bay fig trees have been planted over the last couple of years, with the majority thriving in a challenging, windy, salty environment.
For the background to the design process I have lifted the following quote from the Barangaroo website:
“An international tender process was held for the park’s design in 2009/2010 with Johnson Pilton Walker in association with Peter Walker and Partners Landscape Architecture, landing the contract. The team’s winning design juxtaposes a rugged sandstone topography inspired by the naturalistic pre-1836 shoreline of the historic Port Jackson area, against a flourishing and modern CBD. It transforms a disused shipping container yard into one of Sydney’s most stunning green headlands, visually linking the headland archipelagos of Balls Head, Goat Island and Ballast Point.”
In addition to Lead Designer Peter Walker, numerous other landscape professionals were part of the process. Legendary Sydney landscape architect Stuart Pittendrigh was also integral to the project. Stuart’s knowledge of and extensive use of the Sydney flora throughout his career has undoubtedly been a key part of the project. Propagation material of over 80 species indigenous to the various plant communities that make up the Sydney Harbour bushland have been collected from the surrounding remnant areas of native flora. Many of these species are rarely seen in cultivation, and must have been a considerable challenge to grow.
Soil scientist Simon Leake, principal of Sydney and Environmental Soil Laboratory has also been instrumental in solving a number of challenges in rehabilitating the industrial site to one that would support the native plants used in the design. In particular, many species that have been used are ultra-sensitive to phosphorus levels in the soil, a problem that was overcome by blending crushed sandstone with composted green waste in a carefully monitored manufacturing process.
Around 37,000 cubic metres of sandstone were extracted during the construction phase in creating a large underground amphitheatre and carpark and this stone has been used to dramatic effect in the landscape. In particular, foreshore areas have been created from huge sandstone blocks that have formed rather striking ‘stepping stone’ tidal zones along the newly constructed walkways. There are already encouraging signs of various marine creatures colonising these areas and as the indigenous fig trees develop their majestic forms the intent of the naturalistic design concept will unfold.
Does the landscape design for the Barangaroo Reserve work? This will no doubt be a hotly debated subject in coming months and years. I am unashamedly biased towards a more naturalistic design concept for public spaces such as the headlands of Sydney Harbour and I think judgement should be reserved for a few years to give it time to mature.
The concept of this design has been to create a landscape based on ecological principles in attempting to recreate plant communities that thrive in the micro-environments created on such an expansive site. These communities have so far been very successful and it will be fascinating to see how the various species perform in the long term. I loved the use of various unusual native ferns such as coral fern (Gleichenia microphylla) on the southerly aspects and the use of indigenous climbers such as wonga wonga vine (Pandorea pandorana) and native clematis (Clematis aristata) as flowering ground covers to spill over the terraced gardens.
I take my hat off to the designers for taking enormous risks in using a huge palette of indigenous plants, many of which are rarely, if ever used in horticulture. Leaving aside the extensive high rise developments that tower over the area to the south of the site, the landscape design of the northern part is a bold effort to celebrate the genius loci of this rather iconic site.
[Barangaroo Point Park is open to visitors from 22 August 2015. A three-month ‘Welcome Celebration’ begins on Sunday 6 September and continues each weekend with entertainment, art, and family events. More information at Barangaroo]