Darling Harbour Sydney Public Realm

The challenge was to reinvent one of Australia’s most visited public places – the Darling Harbour precinct in central Sydney.

The new precinct is a people magnet’ where Sydney comes together to relax, to do business, to be entertained, to enjoy city living – and to share their experiences (hello, Instagram).

The transformation of this 20-hectare precinct was a pivotal urban renewal project for Sydney. A once-in-a-generation chance to create a must see’ destination complete with convention centre, theatres and events spaces – all tied together with an array of parks, water features, plazas and paths for walkers and cyclists.

For our design team, there was only one way to get it right – by capturing the hearts and minds of people using the precinct. Every decision we made during the design process was about how to draw them in – and keep them coming back. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year.

Just three years on from completion, that’s exactly what’s happened. 

The area is bustling with activity, 247. It’s easier to use and more compelling, designed to meet the diverse needs of diverse users. 

Families taking their kids to play or splash in the shallow pools. Professionals attending a conference at ICC Sydney. Music fans enjoying an open-air concert. Communities gathering for a cultural festival. Local residents relaxing in their backyard’. Or people simply passing through, discovering public art or street performers.

Beyond all these events and activities, the renewal of Darling Harbour makes Sydney a more connected city. With new cycling and walking routes and better transport connections, it’s much easier for people to reach the precinct’s once-disconnected immediate neighbourhoods, as well as the harbour and the city centre. 

Public art

Public art heightens the experience of visiting Darling Harbour, with a range of artworks that educate, stimulate and engage visitors. We incorporated this important layer of work in our design process from the very start.

The big bang’ and fine grain’ artworks include Tidal Cascades by Robert Woodward – the precinct’s beloved fountain, restored and re-set into the ICC Sydney forecourt. Other works cover everything from an audio-visual installation to a soundscape to sculpture, including:

  • data.scape by Ryoji Ikeda
  • Sandstone Pollen by Maria Fernanda Cardoso
  • Entelekheia by Danie Mellor
  • Sound Habitat by Janet Laurence

Process

Our multidisciplinary team prepared the urban design framework for the entire 20-hectare precinct, drawing on their diverse skills and experience through each stage of the project.

The result is a design that seamlessly blends the public landscape and custom artworks with the architecture. It also maximises public open space, plays up cultural features, and improves connections and views across the precinct.

We united all three ICC Sydney buildings through consistent landscaping, terraces and materials. By thoughtfully stitching together all these elements, we’ve made it easier to move through the wider area – and created a place that looks and feels more cohesive and inviting.

Client

Infrastructure New South Wales / Lendlease / Darling Harbour Live (Transformation)

Location

Sydney, Australia

Status

Completed

Year

2018

Scale

20 ha

Collaborators

Hassell + Populous (Architecture), OMA (competition stage master plan)

Design team

Angus Bruce, Jason Cuffe, Georgia Darling, Andrew Ewington, Dana Gopffarth, Ken Maher, Jo Picton, Frank Smith, Stephen Tan

Photographer

Simon Wood

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We analysed more than 180K social media reviews of Darling Harbour to find it evoked a response of joy, anticipation or surprise in 88% of posts.

30% more public space
9K sqm of extra green space
650 new trees

The precinct feels vital, engaging and safe. It has been given a clarity that previously evaded it. This is a true urban project of city scale, which will have an important impact on the future of the inner city.”

Australian Institute of Architects 2018 National Architecture Awards jury
  • A drawcard for events – one major, integrated venue (ICC Sydney) within three exceptional public buildings, plus Tumbalong Park serving as a high-capacity, open-air event space with staging facilities
  • A connected precinct – an enhanced network of lanes and streets including The Boulevard – a 680m-long, Eucalypt-lined promenade that anchors the entire site
  • A dynamic destination – lively, flexible urban spaces such as the Chinese Garden Square – a forecourt to the existing Chinese Garden of Friendship, with shallow water pools for play that switch off to make way for markets and event installations 
  • A greener harbour9,000sqm of extra green space, featuring plenty of native species to make this a better urban habitat 
  • A very Sydney story’ a program of public art and landscaping inspired by Darling Harbour’s history, ecology and waterfront location

Our design for Darling Harbour is green, global and connected’, taking its lead from the city’s Sustainable Sydney’ vision.

Highlights include water-sensitive urban design solutions, better transport and pedestrian connections, and 30% more public space – earning the precinct a 6 Star Green Star Communities rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

All up, we incorporated 650 new trees and 9,000sqm of green space. Our selection of drought-tolerant plants and unique soil composites – along with the integration of elements such as permeable paving and stormwater harvesting tree pits – ensures this precinct needs minimal irrigation. 

  • 2019 Singapore Institute of Planning Awards – Best Urban Design (International Category) – Gold
  • 2019 Singapore Landscape Architecture Awards – Silver Award – Parks and Recreational Landscape
  • 2019 International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) – Award for Excellence – Cultural and Urban Landscape
  • 2019 Good Design Award – Gold Winner – Architectural Design: Urban Design
  • 2019 The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies, International Architecture Awards – Urban Planning / Landscape Architecture Award
  • 2019 WLA Awards (World Landscape Architecture) – Merit Award – Built Large Category
  • 2018 Australian Institute of Architects National Architecture Awards – The Walter Burley Griffin Award for Urban Design
  • 2018 Australian Award for Urban Design – Commendation for built projects: city and regional scale
  • 2018 Australian Institute of Architecture (New South Wales) Awards – The Lloyd Rees Award for Urban Design
  • 2015 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (New South Wales) Awards – Award for Urban Design in Landscape Architecture
Related

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On behalf of the entire HASSELL team around the world, we wish you a happy and prosperous Lunar New Year full of wonderful places and experiences! Pictured is Chinese Garden, Darling Harbour, designed by HASSELL and Tzang + Lee Architects. When Darling Harbour was redeveloped as a Bicentennial project in 1988, Sydney's Chinese community advocated for the inclusion of a traditional garden (one of the largest outside Asia). 📷 @chloeferres #lunarnewyear #yearofthepig

@hassell_studio

instagram

The Boulevard is a new pedestrian promenade that snakes from Chinatown to the harbour's edge, with added pedestrian connections to public transport. It's part of the transformation of Darling Harbour, Sydney's most significant urban renewal initiative in 20 years. 📷 @simonwoodphotography. #magichour #waterfronts #harbourfront #urbanrenewal #thisislandscapearchitecture #wlam2018

@hassell_studio

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