Never in living memory has the importance of green spaces, playgrounds, nurturing chill zones, curated nature places, and passive social precincts even in the heart of a CBD, been more critical to community physical and mental health than in the time of COVID.
And at the announcement of the 2021 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects NSW Awards on June 9, jury chair Joshua French emphasised this reality by saying that the pandemic “had focused unprecedented attention on the need for exemplary outdoor space”.
Though landscape architecture delivers so much more than smooth stretches of lawn, pretty flowerbeds and safety-forward playgrounds, the relatively young profession has often been overshadowed – or even overlooked by being put at the bottom project budgetary piles – in the making of public facilities and structures.
But as French said: “The consideration of green space needs to be right up there on the same level with hospitals, roads and public transport”.
At the virtual awards ceremony hosted by comedian and architectural tragic Tim Ross, and from the whittled down list of 78 entries, plenty of hospitals, roads, rail corridors and essential buildings were in the winners lists as being terrifically enhanced by what landscape architecture has added to them.
There were two levels of winners: the peak awards of excellence, which had nine recipients, and 16 further projects that deserved special recognition by being named winners or co winners of landscape architecture awards.
In the excellence category concerned with health and education landscape, the juries were particularly impressed with the work of Tract Consultants around the redevelopment of Westmead Hospital’s Central Acute Services building.
The multi-layered garden oasis it created, which is massed with plantings, has become an essential sanctuary of respite for staff, patients and visitors in the largest tertiary hospital in western Sydney.
The jury’s view was that it “evidenced the craft of landscape architecture” and acknowledged both its tactile and visual qualities. It is, they decided “a place for people”.
Tract, one of Australia’s earliest established landscape firms and which has expanded to international projects, was also cited in the excellence civic landscape award for what is blandly referred to as “a safety upgrade” to the 10-kilometre coastal walk that leads to Bondi Beach.
At the Notts Avenue node, Tract saw scope to make much more of a shared traffic zone by adding some beautiful canopies to a paved “dress circle” position above the beach.
Another magnificent seascape, this time on the waterfront at Bateman’s Bay on the south coast, won an excellence in urban design award for the practice Inspiring Place, for the way they developed a strategy that successfully connected community and council to resolve site-planning issues aimed at making more of the locale for residents and tourists.
The project, said the jury, “evidences landscape architects as advocates for excellence”.
Play spaces is always a delightful category which this year attracted eight terrific entries. Gaining the excellence award was a very imaginative reworking of the old horse sales ring at Newmarket, Randwick, by Arcadia Landscape Architects.
To make a climbing, sliding, squealing-with-happiness amenity with a hundred engaging uses, Arcadia reused the bones of the old sale ring as the focal point of a suspended structure that makes what kids would recognise as (in the jury’s words) “a unique and memorable space”.
Winning the landscape award in the same play and open space sector for an irresistible new fun bit of infrastructure at the all-round admirable Summerland Farm in the Byron hinterland, was Murwillumbah landscape firm Plummer and Smith.
In league with DFJ Architects, they were bumped up into the excellence level of tourism for what they also did around the macadamia and avocado farm to improve accessibility for people with a disability.
Summerland Farm Park at Alstonville was founded to be an inclusive attraction and across its event catering, café, restaurant, farm interactive and adventure play offerings that are accessible for a tiny entry fee, it employs 100 people with a disability.
Back in Sydney, the 12-kilometre long CBD and Light Rail – NSW project won the excellence award for infrastructure for ASPECT Studios with Grimshaw and the City of Sydney, and was praised by the jury for the way “it knits into the urban fabric” and responds slightly differently to the nuances of every major precinct along the line.
The cooled-down pedestrianised zone that moves through Sydney alongside the lately arrived light rail is very different to the traffic busy corridor than it was for centuries.
In the same category was the more iconic and much longer Pacific Highway upgrade that is now completed between Tweed Heads and Hexham. Australia’s biggest road project won a landscape award for The Centre for Urban Design, Transport NSW “and all of its Landscape Architecture partners” who number 15 consultants.