Public Space Goes Upwards and Underground

Architecture & Interiors

For years now I’ve been watching the development of the High Line, an inspiring landscape design/urban design/regeneration project along Manhattan’s West Side that has only recently opened to the public. My little architecture school tucked away here in Australia was ridiculously excited about the project when it was first opened to a competition, and the announcement of the successful design and the eventual, slightly delayed construction has all played out like a beautiful (albeit incredibly suspenseful!) ode to the power of innovation.

Instead of merely reducing an historic piece of city infrastructure into rubble, landscape architects James Corner Field Operations and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have transformed an abandoned elevated train line into a place of robust urban beauty.

[Images via The High Line]

Needless to say I’ve been watching on with a sense of awe and an extreme case of jealousy, but just when I was at the height of my envy, Sydney sneaks up on me and unveils its own little tricky surprise. Along one of the busiest and most famous roads in Sydney (and perhaps even Australia), the recently opened Paddington Reservoir is as unexpected as it is delightful.
Designed by landscape architects James Mather Delaney Design and architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, this amazing new space will host markets, art and film festivals, and hopefully a few live music gigs as well.

By day the most outstanding features of the Gardens are the bright sub-tropical landscaping and the simple pallette of materials that is ruthlessly modern in areas and seamlessly sympathetic in others. A large portion of the Gardens can be viewed from street level, however the real pleasure of this space is in its exploration. Though not a particularly large area by any means, the multiple levels weave poetically through the layers of history and provide a rich experience even for the casual observer.
Once the sun sets however, the Gardens take on a whole new personality…

I’ve only had the pleasure to visit in the daytime, but a night visit is definitely on the cards, complete with camera and tripod (what better excuse to finally find film for the former and simply buy the latter!) If you happen to be cruising along Oxford Street, take a break from retail therapy/partying/people watching and have a little look around. You’ll love it, I promise!
And just for a little background, an excerpt from the design statement:

When TZG and JMD were commissioned to convert the Paddington Reservoir into an urban park, the general expectation was that the site would be capped off and a brand new arrangement built on top. However, we were captivated by the possibilities of revealing the 19th century structures as a ruin through which members of the public could wander, taking in the dramatic spaces and play of light across the remnants of historic walls and vaults.

Listed as a site of state heritage significance, the Paddington Reservoir was originally constructed in two stages, completed in 1866 and 1878. The water chambers were built below street level with a grassed park above, opened to the public in the 1930’s. The operational life of the reservoir ceased in 1899 and the site was used as a workshop and garage until 1990 when roof collapses forced its closure.

We believed the concept for the project was embodied in the existing artifact. An accessible sunken garden and pond, surrounded by a raised pre-cast concrete boardwalk, has been inserted within the conserved ruin of the western chamber of the former reservoir. The edges of the ruin are contained by concrete up-stands in such a way as to amplify the distinctive curved characteristics of the original brick vaults. The Victorian tree-fern garden hints at the era in which the Reservoir was originally built.

Further reading on The High Line:

The New York Times – Feature Article

The New York Times – Architecture Review

Friends of the High Line

The High Line Blog
Color Me Katie – High Line Night Photography

Further reading on the Paddington Reservoir Gardens:

Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects

Australian Design Review

City of Sydney – Gardens Launch Article

City of Sydney – Gardens Launch Images

Time Out Sydney Article

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  1. Christian

    Aug 4, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Very interesting but nothing new, it was done in Paris before, completed in 1995.

  2. joanna goddard

    Aug 4, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    how amazing! i hadn’t heard of the gardens — they’re so gorgeous!

  3. Kit Unreliable

    Aug 4, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Thanks for that link Christian, I’ve very briefly visited the gardens in Paris and they’re just magical! And you’re right, there’s nothing new about the concept – we’ve been repurposing buildings and infrastructure for about as long as we’ve had either! Paris, London, Rome, NYC etc all have great examples of this because they all have wonderfully rich histories, but as Australia has such comparitively young cities, their histories have often been dismissed as unimportant and simply demolished. So generally speaking there’s nothing especially groundbreaking (excuse the pun) but for an Australian city to reinvent redundant infrastructure and create a buzzing public space in the process? Virtually unheard of!

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