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Off the back of his talk “It’s only our future…” at DesignBUILD this month, HASSELL’s Matthew Mackay reflects on his 15 year career as a landscape architect, a role that has transformed over the years, and finding creative ways to develop green space in cities that are becoming more and more populated.
What would you say the number one issue is that needs to be addressed when it comes to designing for our growing and more centralised cities?
Our cities are growing rapidly – both vertically and density-wise, so the main issue is the need to retrofit a living system to support increased population density. In Melbourne, precincts like the CBD and Fishermans Bend that are being very quickly driven toward density and plot ratios similar to Hong Kong and New York. Unfortunately, however, the open space that we are used to having in our very ‘liveable’ Australian cities isn’t being provided in these new developments, so we need to look at how we can try to retrofit an open space network that retains that kind of liveability and healthy aspiration that we have for our cities.
Do you feel that the value of landscape architects has been often overlooked?
Historically, yes. I have been in practice for a little over 15 years and when I started, it always felt as though the landscape architects’ boundary ended at the building’s edge, and even then it was up for grabs – everyone wanted a say. I think that now, however, and particularly working as part of a multidisciplinary team at HASSELL, we are often involved much earlier, at master planning stages and even in pre-planning phases. I think we have a lot more of a voice now. Most clients are now starting to see the value of landscape, and see their responsibility to create healthier and more sustainable projects and cities.
Do you think that now your job is easier or harder than it was 15 years ago?
I would definitely say the job is more complicated now, because there is always pressure to do something more innovative. Living architecture is incredibly challenging because a lot of it is new – new thinking, new ideas, and new technologies. For example, for Medibank Place in Docklands, we undertook the design of a living façade. The windy Docklands environment made that really challenging, along with the fact that the technology we needed didn’t really exist at the time. So the project also needed to incorporate research and development. Finally, with the University of Melbourne Urban Horticulture team as a peer reviewer and Fytogreen as a specialist contractor, we were able to build prototypes of the planter boxes we needed.
What is something that excites you and frustrates you about designing for Australian cities?
I get excited about the shift in the role of landscape architects and the role that we play in designing cities. We are much more engaged now, not just in the case of individual sites but also on a city-wide scale. Landscape architects are now planning for the integration of open space and green infrastructure, as well as working on small living architecture elements – things like rooftop landscapes, vertical greenery, and parks within commercial precincts.
Confusion over planning policy can be a frustration. Ideally, we would get planning correct from the beginning, trust the thinking that goes into master planning for cities, and stick to it as much as possible.
Is there a project that you see as an exemplar in embracing green space and sustainability in a city environment?
For now at least, until we go one step further, Medibank Place is that project for HASSELL. While it’s a commercial building, the entry to the workplace is through a park, which is exciting in itself. It also includes a multi-purpose sports court, and there are 10,000 plants and nearly 100 trees in the development, plus vertical facades, interior planting – the whole thing is based on being a living, breathing building, and we love it!
What are a few key things that you think we will be seeing more of in the future, in terms of city landscaping?
One of the big challenges in this area is that sometimes land just isn’t available; sites are often space constrained. So I would say the inventive creation of new space, like the integration of a park in a commercial building like we did at Medibank Place. It was created partially within the site boundary but also bridged over Wurundjeri Way, where the site didn’t previously exist. Rooftop terraces and gardens are other examples of space that wasn’t previously used. I think there will be more of this kind of creation of space, as sustainability objectives push us to develop new ways of thinking.