Green building improvements invigorate Canberra’s city gateway
The iconic Sydney and Melbourne Buildings hold a special place in Canberra’s cultural and physical history. Built in the early stages of Canberra’s formation, the buildings are prominently situated in the heart of the city – clear landmarks that signal entry into Australia’s capital.
In 2018, the ACT Government engaged the City Renewal Authority to restore these historical sites with landscaped verges and upgraded amenities. Citygreen collaborated with key stakeholders, including dsb Landscape Architects and Complex Co, to refresh the building verges with vibrant street trees.
The primary goals of the project were to revitalise the building verges, improve access, and create a more pedestrian-friendly area that was safer and easier to get around.
By improving the look, feel and function of the sites, the works aimed to create more opportunities for street cafes, outdoor trading and public enjoyment. That meant adding shade, colour and character to the space with healthy trees.
As Michael Reeves from dsb Landscape Architects explained, “The design responds to potential activities on the building verges. The existing verges were limited in width, so there was inadequate space to accommodate any viable commercial or social activities. There were no trees or ground level planting.”
“The design strategy was to widen the median, repave the verges in quality bluestone and black granite, and introduce trees in planter beds along the verges. The design incorporates arboriculturally shaped trees to create a shaded canopy in summer and provide vertical definition to the space. Deciduous trees are equally important to allow sun penetration in the winter. It is anticipated that the widened and upgraded verges will be popular as a meeting place.”
Project challenges and solutions
The project posed some significant challenges for the landscaping and construction teams. As the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings are heritage listed, a proven solution was needed to ensure the sites wouldn’t be disturbed by tree roots. It was also essential that the landscape solutions could support substantial pavement loading and be efficiently installed around other services.
“A requirement of the Heritage Management Plan for these buildings is that they be permanently protected from disturbance from tree roots. The proximity of a water main and adjacent cycle lanes and pedestrian pavements required a subsurface infrastructure that supported the tree planting and the pavements above”, said Michael from dsb Landscape Architects.
Citygreen’s Stratavault system was chosen for its ability to meet the project’s needs. As well as providing ample soil volume to support trees to maturity, Stratavault is engineered to achieve major reductions in labour time and installation costs. Modules snap together quickly to form an interconnected matrix, which was ideal for this project.
As James Callan from Complex Co said, “The Stratavault system was used to transfer pavement design loads without compromising the planting media used for the planting of new street trees. The Stratavault ‘matrix’ design also accommodated installation of electrical conduits for feature lighting, construction of light column footings and installation of stormwater drainage services.”
James also praised the Citygreen team, adding that “Citygreen offered training and invaluable technical assistance during the works.”
Since completion in late 2018, the new landscaped verges have enhanced the city space, both practically and aesthetically.
“Exotic deciduous trees, quality landscape pavements and urban design elements contribute to the establishment of outdoor dining opportunities and enhanced social activity in widened verges adjacent to the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings”, said Michael from dsb.
“The Civic Precinct and Northbourne Avenue verge landscape design builds resilience into the landscape treatments and achieves an iconic and legacy landscape character that will thrive into the next 50-100 years”, he added.
James from Complex Co confirmed this view, saying “The newly planted street trees are establishing well, and the pavement is in excellent condition.”
The landscaping improvements are complemented by seating, lighting and a new raised cycling path, which combine to create a more welcoming vibe in Australia’s capital city.
At the formal opening in November, Chris Steel, Minister for City Services said, “This is the most significant improvement work conducted on the Sydney and Melbourne building precinct for a long time and we hope all Canberrans will enjoy our revitalised city centre.”
Local businesses agree, with restaurant owner Pasquale Trimboli saying the works have “cleaned up the area” and “brought the Sydney building back into play.”