Melbourne Arts Precinct to be transformed by Sheffield experts behind London Olympic Park planting

Melbourne Arts Precinct

The Landscape Architecture Professors responsible for the spectacular floral displays at London’s Olympic park have been appointed planting designers for Melbourne’s $1bn arts precinct project.

Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough from the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield will create cutting-edge, minimal water use plantings in 18,000 square metres of renewed public space in the heart Melbourne.

They will work in collaboration with Australian architectural studio Hassell and New York-based design firm SO-IL to transform the Melbourne Arts Precinct, which houses one of the highest concentrations of arts, cultural and creative organisations anywhere in the world.

The team will create an elevated park, gardens and pedestrian spaces in the Southbank area, which links 40 galleries, theatres and arts organisations with Melbourne’s Arts Centre, Performing Arts Museum and the soon-to-be-built NGV Contemporary Gallery.

The project has drawn comparisons with New York’s High Line – the transformation a former rail line in Manhattan, credited with stimulating major economic regeneration in its surroundings.

“The Melbourne arts precinct is another major project in which planting is seen as one of the key issues in making rich and exciting public space. It is a great coup for the department to have its staff playing major roles in such world-leading projects.”

professor james hitchmough

Professor Dunnett said: “the exciting aspect of the Melbourne project is that is was won largely on the basis of the planting design content: it was the distinctive element in the proposals compared to others in the competition.”

“The concept of filling the site with dramatic, diverse, sustainable and beautiful planting, and then carving out spaces for human use within this planted matrix, was a hugely compelling one,” he said.

“In particular it captured the imagination of the artists, cultural organisations, and art foundations involved. It’s a reflection of something that is becoming increasingly obvious: that planting design, and the associated creation of healthy urban environments, is now taking centre-stage in major international landscape projects.”

An estimated 10,000 new jobs will be created during construction with 260 of them on-going. Once complete, the arts precinct is expected to draw an additional 3 million people to the area each year. The plantings will be designed to provide a succession of seasonal, month-by-month highlights that will mirror the changing art shows occurring within the National Gallery of Victoria.

Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews said that this once-in-a-generation project will reshape Melbourne’s arts heartland. “This project will bring the colour, creativity and activity that happens within our galleries and theatres outside for all to enjoy – no tickets required,” he said.

Students in the Department of Landscape Architecture – at both undergraduate and postgraduate level – benefit from the expertise of Professors Dunnett and Hitchmough through their lectures in ecological processes and design.

In these they stress the importance of sustainable and beautiful planting as basis from which Landscape Architects can create innovative public spaces that have the capacity to both improve public wellbeing and meet the challenges of climate change.

Professor Dunnett added: “the global reputation of the Department of Landscape Architecture, as one of the few landscape architecture schools in the world (perhaps the only one) that puts creative and sustainable planting design at the very core of its identity, places it way ahead of this curve.”

Professor Hitchmough added: “The Melbourne arts precinct is another major project in which planting is seen as one of the key issues in making rich and exciting public space. It is a great coup for the department to have its staff playing major roles in such world-leading projects.”

Find out more about the Melbourne Arts Precinct transformation