Merging heritage + environment

It’s known as the bush capital. Surrounded by mountains and forests, Canberra’s natural environment is both stunning and ecologically significant.

There’s a growing body of evidence pointing to just how essential access to nature is for our mental wellbeing. With this in mind, and more people moving to urban areas, the relationship between architecture and the environment is becoming increasingly linked.

When Art Group conceptualised the Soho precinct, outdoor living and access to nature was front of mind. They called upon expert landscape architects at Redbox to create a space that could be enjoyed by residents and also the wider public; a calming retreat from the bustling city that complemented Canberra’s surrounds. 

Kashmir responds intimately to its surroundings, picking up on organic heritage cues, and ensuring nature is front and centre in design quality. One of the main landscape design spaces at Kashmir is the forecourt at the northern end of the site. It perfectly blends the special heritage building and new northern lobby. 

Back in the ‘60s, the area was home to dozens of high-density modernist buildings for Canberra’s growing public service. Their generous gardens and connected walking paths created a vibrant community for residents to socialise. Parts of that history remain, with a heritage building forming a unique part of the Kashmir precinct. ‘The hope is that the Soho community and the wide Inner North community will enjoy this space together and come to understand how far the site has come since early days as public housing,’ David explains.

‘That space is our interpretation as landscape architects of the way residents over the years transformed the spaces around their homes as gardens, patios, areas to socialise with neighbours,’ Davis says. ‘So, taking that as our design cue, we’ve created a space with pathways, seating, shady trees and sculptural forms in the landscape.’

A striking feature in Kashmir is its series of rooftop terraces. More contemporary in feel, they’re a response to the materiality and impressive architectural qualities of the building. There are spaces to lounge, dine, watch movies, or simply enjoy the spectacular views across the Inner North.

The Kashmir site is an important part of Canberra’s modernist heritage. From the beginning, Redbox has worked alongside leading heritage architects from Conrad Gargett to brings ideas to life. Their expertise helped integrate heritage features into Kashmir’s landscape design and aesthetic.

Many original elements of the landscape have been retained, David Gole from Conrad Gargett tells us, but they’ve been modernised for a new generation of residents. ‘The original pathways have to be retained but they’re too narrow so we have added new elements,’ he says. 

‘Retaining our heritage buildings … it helps us understand our history and identity. We all navigate our lives through different markers and heritage buildings and cultural places are some of those markers that help us navigate and understand who we are.’

When the entire Soho Precinct is complete, people will be able to walk the full length using different connected pathways; half a kilometre of green spaces and landscaped gardens. Nearby will also be some interpretation on the site, sharing the story of Canberra’s beginnings, and reminding us that opportunities are endless.