Planning an environment

Canberra is often called a 'Garden City', but what does that mean? We asked David Moyle and Justin Kalinowski from local Canberra landscape architecture firm, Redbox design group.

To answer that, we need to step back in time about 50 years. Imagine a young Canberra, wide fields and stretches of land. The new city was quite empty and the small population and lack of amenities made it difficult to attract young public servants. The new capital couldn't promise an exciting metropolis or thriving resources, but they could offer a 'worker's paradise'.

The idea was to plan the city where the workers had excellent quality of life. Sprawling parks, tree lined streets and free facilities encouraged a connection to the outdoors and an active social life.

The original Northbourne Precinct was based on this idea. As free public servant accommodation, it was landscaped extensively to entice workers outdoors and into the fresh Canberra air.

When Art Group was creating the new masterplan for the Soho precinct, they called upon the expert landscape architects at Redbox to give the worker's paradise concept a modern twist. Redbox collaborated closely with Conrad Gargett to retain the heritage feel of the site.

'It was quite a miraculous process of reimagining the fabric of that heritage. The forecourts, the way people move through the space, remembering some of the early pathways and structures though lighting and so on,' David explains.

Soho will retain much of the garden concept, reinterpreted for modern life.

Soho's first release, Mulberry, will feature two thoroughfares between the apartments, providing access from Dickson to the light rail on Northbourne. A stylish structure will zigzag above the thoroughfares to safely light the way for the public, much like the original arbour that stood in the gardens.

These thoroughfares are just one consideration of how Soho will create a modern worker's paradise. While the original paths were quite narrow, a modern reinterpretation are designed for higher foot traffic and requirements specific to the light rail. The space fronting Northbourne and Dooring street will set a very different tone. On Northbourne there will be quintessential Canberra natives and greater setback from the road. This will give it the prominent national avenue feel. Dooring Street will retain the leafy oak trees.

'We're trying to sustain the garden city with the avenues and boulevards, streets and lanes that Canberrans are really attached to. At the same time, we are trying to lend an intimate feel when you walk through the precinct.'

David Moyle

Residents at Soho will benefit from the landscaping most of all. Within Mulberry, there will be a vast internal garden with lush exotics. Plus, there will be three distinct rooftops, each with a different character. The first will be a sleek and modern pool deck with vibrant city views. The second will capture a completely different feel of a gritty urban garden much like a backyard. The third will be beautifully manicured into a peaceful zen rooftop.

Each space will have a specific amenity to offer residents. Yet, as Justin assures, 'the rooftops are more than apartment amenities. They have been created to bring people together for a common purpose in an authentic way. Keen gardeners can bond over tomatoes while yogis may begin a morning session in the zen rooftop. This is how real communities are created.'

While the rooftop idea is quite modern for Canberra, the concept behind it, of enticing people to congregate in the sunshine is an enthusiastic nod to Canberra's earlier history. While Canberra has certainly changed, the garden city concept is here to stay. Soho's reinterpretation will mean that as the pace of life ever increases, there are special spaces outdoors to help us stay connected and recharged.