4.5-acre slab of concrete to be transformed into a beautiful urban waterfront park, and the winning design team is indigenous-led

A stunning design for Harbour Park in Sydney, NSW, Australia has been revealed, showing how an empty concrete slab on old industrial land can be transformed into a revitalizing natural retreat in the heart of the city.

This prime stretch of dead waterfront is about to be transformed into vital new open space, as part of the huge, regenerative Barangaroo project that we’ve featured before here in REVITALIZATION.

I (Storm Cunningham) have paid special attention to progress at Barangaroo ever since I toured the project in its early days back in 2015, while I was doing a couple of weeks of work for the Planning Institute of Australia on both the east and west coasts of the country.

The First Nations-led winning team is Sydney-based AKIN. AKIN comprises Studio Chris Fox, Yerrabingin, Architectus, Flying Fish Blue and Jacob Nash Design, with Arup as engineering consultants.

Harbour Park will be 1.85 hectares (4.5 acres) of open space and will become a place where people can explore, play, rest, discover and reconnect to nature, alongside Sydney’s iconic harbor.

First Nations-led and Sydney based design team AKIN’s vision for the park features nature play for all ages and abilities, an event lawn for hosting community and cultural events with up to 6000 people, public art installations, winding pathways to explore, extensive native planting and interactive water features.

The awe-inspiring design honours the long and deep First Nations history of the Gadigal, while leaving a legacy for the future. It showcases First Nations design methodologies to create a place that is rich in culture and deeply connected to Country.

Harbour Park will be a drawcard for tourists and Sydneysiders alike. The design complements the naturalistic headland of Barangaroo Reserve and the urban environment of Barangaroo South and is set to be a feature along the 14-kilometre continuous harbourside walk from Glebe to Woolloomooloo.

AKIN’s concept for a world-class waterfront park design is deeply rooted in the area’s rich heritage, weaving together the threads of landscape, art, and architecture to create a place of connection, reconciliation, and regeneration.

Named after the Cammeraygal woman and influential leader of the Eora Nation, Barangaroo has more than 7000 years of history and stories to tell.

The land’s Traditional Custodians, the Gadigal, used the area for hunting, fishing, canoeing, and swimming, while its foreshore was a gathering place.

Acting Premier of NSW Prue Car said, “Announcing the winner of the design competition for Harbour Park is a massive milestone for the project, and we are excited to share the first designs of the park, from this local and First Nations-led design team.

Harbour Park is on the traditional lands of the Gadigal, who have been the custodians of the land and waterways for millennia. The park continues the precinct’s commitment to honouring the role of First Nations people, the history of the site and its wider context,” she explained. “The new park will be an inclusive, family friendly place, with experiences for all ages and abilities. I am looking forward to seeing this incredible design come to life.

The design incorporates significant public artworks, referred to as “vessels” by AKIN, revolving around the natural elements of water, wind, and moon, which all have special significance in Indigenous knowledge systems.

Artists Chris Fox, who is Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney‘s School of Architecture, Design and Planning, and Jacob Nash said, “The three significant First Nations led artworks will not be static – they will be deeply engaged with the Country that they reside upon.

They will be brought to life through an interplay with nature and the seasons and established as sites for gathering. They will function as living cultural objects within the city of Sydney to be loved and appreciated by residents, visitors, and the world, for generations to come,” they added.

AKIN – which includes leading thinkers and designers in Indigenous knowledge systems, landscape architecture, architecture, regenerative design, public art, and placemaking – focused on Country-centered design initiatives to support regenerative ecology and natural systems, drawing insects, birds, and other fauna.

A landscape of local, native plantings will speak directly of place, with tree species such as Sydney Red Gum, Casuarina and Cabbage Tree Palm featuring prominently, along with a variety of endemic grasses.

Working with Jake, we have envisioned three major public artworks responding to Country. Each ‘vessel’ has its own story and materiality integrated into the landscape. As part of our co-design process, we developed a computational wind model that starts from Country, then develops into path lines informing the position of the ‘vessels’ and the formation of the landscape,” said Fox.

Water will also play a vital role in the new parkland, with runoff collected and filtered through the landscape before being returned to the Harbour in better condition.

The water vessel will form a connection point to the Harbour and a place for gathering and ceremony. Constructed from timber, it will reference pre-settlement campfires that burned along the Harbour as well as Sydney’s shared contemporary history. The piece will also frame Me-Mel Island (Goat Island), a physical and cultural landmark for Traditional Custodians.

Suspended in the windiest corner of the park, the wind vessel will symbolically ‘collect’ the people who pass through it. It will give a ‘voice’ to whispering winds coming into Barangaroo from the west each morning, sharing stories, songs and language with all the park’s visitors.

Featuring an oculus and a reflective, lined underside echoing tidal lines in the Harbour, the elevated moon vessel will capture the movement of the moon across the sky. The west-facing site is a landscape of longing that never sees a dawn – an ever-present reminder of time as the sun and moon are always transiting away from this place.

Yerrabingin founder and CEO, Christian Hampson, who is orchestrating AKIN’s design themes said, “For us, this is much more than a park – it’s a place to celebrate an enduring culture and to move with Country, acknowledging and experiencing our collective past and present while dreaming of our future.

Our design is a new chapter connected to the most ancient of stories, carved in the sandstone of Sydney: the story of Country and of us, its people. We hope this new chapter inspires all our young people, fanning the embers inside them into a fire as the future artists, architects, designers, and engineers of our cities and our nation,” he concluded.

Key features of AKIN’s design for Harbour Park include:

  • a timeless landscape with extensive planting, canopy cover, waterways and ponds;
  • nature play for all ages and abilities with shallow water pools, interactive water features, meandering pathways, toilets and a kiosk;
  • a series of significant public artworks that will be places of exploration, play, education, shade and celebration; and
  • a large event lawn at the northern end of the site for community and cultural events and ceremonies, capable of hosting up to 6000 people.

NSW Minister for Lands and Property Steve Kamper said, “The NSW Government ran a competitive design competition to ensure a world-class direction for the future of this park, with competitors asked to prepare a design that encouraged passive and active recreation, as well as spaces that can be programmed for community and cultural events, and this design meets the bill.

We are particularly excited by the focus on the design’s connection to the water, as it not only capitalises on the already stunning harbour views, it also includes interactive water features for play and cooling on a hot summer’s day,” he continued. “The community had a major influence on many of the park’s features and activities, and we will continue to bring the community on the journey as the design features are finalised and brought to fruition.

In addition to the public artwork the park will provide open space for up to 6000 people to gather, with benches, paths, a kiosk, and other amenities adding to the park’s diverse appeal.

Learn more about the Harbour Park competition on the Barangaroo website.

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