ASPECT Studios has designed the public spaces of Sydney’s new city neighbourhood. A series of connected spaces - art filled laneways, a public square, pedestrian boulevards and assorted public domain elements in Sydney’s Darling Harbour; on Gadigal land, on the site of the former Entertainment Centre. Darling Square is now a vibrant connected city place embedded into its context.
“Embodies a new urban typology, fusing landscape, architecture, art, food and culture.” ASPECT Studios
A captivating new world-class urban neighbourhood has rejuvenated the heart of Sydney. It is home to 4,200 residents, 2,500 co-workers, and more than 60 retail and food stores, attracting visitors and locals alike. Darling Square sits on the site of the former Entertainment Centre and car park, south of the revitalised Darling Harbour Live precinct. With a renewed sense of place and position, urban connections are forged, realigning and reconverging the city with its prior landscape and landmarks. Straddling Tumbalong Boulevard, Darling Square provides both destination and reconnection of Darling Harbour to its surrounding urban context of Central Station, Ultimo and Chinatown. The precinct includes a strong, pedestrian focused network of city streets, laneways and the 20-metre-wide pedestrian boulevard bisecting the ground plane, with the public square as the focal point.
The removal of the Entertainment Centre and Car Park created a unique opportunity for a large, undivided, central plot in a pivotal part of the city. Recognising the potential of the site, Lendlease ran a limited design ideas competition to develop new concepts for the design of the public square and adjacent laneway. ASPECT Studios won the competitive process in late 2014 and was subsequently engaged by Lendlease to develop the design for the public domain across Darling Square. ASPECT Studios’ competition winning design responded to the principles of Lendlease’s brief with three primary design moves that altered the existing master plan.
1. Create a platform for the square, held by a canopy edge
2. Give definition to the square, through the boulevard, canopy and connecting laneway spaces
3. Create a community building in the round.
The public domain design response was in alignment with the wider site master planning by Denton Corker Marshall (DCM) and Hassell, for three new residential developments, two new student accommodation buildings and a new commercial building, each with active, retail oriented, ground planes. Darling Square’s immediate patronage has been a response to a new appreciation for the need of urban spaces and the opportunities that come with urbanisation, exemplified in this precinct.
Darling Square is quotidian, offering green, gathering, and strolling spaces for all, as an ever-changing civic space where daily life and spectacle collide. Contextual design offers a thriving and inviting multi-use urban space for all ages, treasured by residents, workers and visitors. Everything at Darling Square has been designed with intent: from the landscape of custom grown Eucalyptus trees and endemic gardens, to interpretations of the indigenous language of the Gadigal people (Eora nation), outdoor mah-jong tables that links Chinatown further east, and intricate fanned paving that symbolise the fish scales of the area’s oncepresent water.
Inspired by the landscape of Sydney’s leafy green suburbs, Kengo Kuma blended the energy of nature with The Exchange building sitting as a punctuation point. The organic, spiralling facade, wrapped in 20 kilometres of timber extends into the public domain both materially and functionally. The public domain integrates effortlessly with The Exchange, forming the centrepiece for the precinct, as a community building in the round and a destination in its own right. Providing urban definition, with inflected spaces, the civic presence of Darling Square has resulted from the underlying systems of place. The constraints of spatial density have been leveraged in a design response that has delivered civic generosity. The result is a distinctive destination and global blueprint, exemplifying regenerative public realm design.
“Fostering connection through considered design and architectural decisions has been key to the success of Darling Square – a place that brings people from the broader neighbourhood together.” Neil Arckless, Lendlease
“I can imagine people lounging on the edge of boulevard, sleeping under the shade of the Japanese Maple trees. You can never totally account for how people will take on and use the space you’ve designed, but that’s the magic of it.” Sacha Coles, ASPECT Studios
About This Project
1. The removal of the Entertainment Centre and Car Park by the NSW Government created a unique opportunity for a large, undivided, central plot in a pivotal part of the city. Recognising the site’s potential, Lendlease ran a limited design ideas competition to develop new design concepts for the public square and adjacent laneway.
2. ASPECT Studios’ competition winning design responded to the principles of Lendlease’s brief with three primary design moves that altered the existing master plan. These were:
+ Create a platform for the square, held by a canopy edge
+ Give definition to the square, through the boulevard, canopy and connecting laneway spaces
+ Create a community building in the round
3. The project was delivered stage by stage:
+ Darling Drive
+ Macarthur Park
+ Two lanes Steam Mill Lane and Little Hay Street - ASPECT Studios curated and integrated work by artists Peta Kruger and Brendan Van Hek
+ The Square
+ The Boulevard
Darling Square is a new city neighbourhood - a structure that in its circular design, reflects a hive for activity, inviting people in from the public domain from all angles and directions. ASPECT Studios’ key proposal for a ‘building in the round’ has renewed a welcoming permeability of place. The internal and external spaces become reciprocal partners, flowing into each other, and becoming critical building blocks for the community. Key public spaces include:
1. The Exchange - As part of the design competition, Lendlease asked respondents to consider how to integrate community and public uses for the building. ASPECT Studios’ proposed that the form of the building be altered to a circular ‘building in the round’. A building with no front or back door that allows the public domain to continue freely underneath.
2. The Square – a paved, flexible open space suitable for evening and weekend temporary market and event overlays. To create a true square, delineation was provided on all four sides to define space and hold the edges.
3. Canopy Edge - ASPECT Studios designed an intervention of a new canopy – a verandah – to occupy the western edge. The canopy creates a critical visual termination to the square, providing opportunity for shade, shelter and amenity. The canopy provides a visual link and connection from building to square, reinforcing the generous blurring between the two.
4. The Lawn – a community lawn – for picnics, eating lunch, walking the dog.
5. The Grove – provides critical shade in the summer months, whilst its deciduous canopy allows light to permeate to the ground through winter. Moveable furniture offers a space of inclusivity, a welcoming place for community to gather, connect and converse in the site’s sunniest spot.
6. Northern Steps – a north facing amphitheatre like space formed from the lifting of the square. The steps allow for flexible, informal seating, capturing the sun and views to Darling Harbour.
7. Laneways: Steam Mill Lane and Little Hay Street - ASPECT Studios collaborated with Lendlease and Leon Paroissien to develop a brief and lead the process for the public art/ lighting for the lanes. Artist Peta Kruger’s proposal was selected for Steam Mill Lane and artist Brendan Van Hek’s proposal selected for Little Hay Street - two bustling, distinct laneways that draw people to the heart of Darling Square. The laneways contain sculptural lighting elements that create a joyous public ceiling and contribute to the activation and human-scale of the place.
8. The Boulevard - an urban linear park with a rich palette of plants and generous seating and tables.
9. Darling Drive - a street characterised by diverse, lush planting which harvests and filters vast amounts of water runoff. This street provides a welcome splash of green in an urban environment.
10. Macarthur Park – a restful, meticulously detailed pocket park that provides a place of quiet in a bustling city.
Knitting the site back into a long forgotten street fabric, Darling Square offers a sequence of revelations and enclosure enabling both identity and navigation. The Square provides respite with connection allowing for the incidental and purposeful, allowing for interconnection and interrelationships. It is a place for 1, 10, 100. The canopy of the building awning and trees and hanging green hold the edge yet smudges boundaries. The Square sits as a level up from promenade.
“Darling Square is quotidian, offering green, gathering, and strolling spaces for all, as an ever-changing civic space where daily life and spectacle collide.” Sacha Coles
Contextual design offers a thriving and inviting multi-use urban space for all ages, treasured by residents, workers and visitors. Everything at Darling Square has been designed with intent: from the landscape of custom grown Eucalyptus trees and endemic gardens, to interpretations of the indigenous language of the Gadigal people (Eora nation), outdoor mah-jong tables that links Chinatown further east, and intricate fanned paving that symbolise the fish scales of the area’s once present water.
The design has achieved a symbiotic relationship between the human and natural environments – a thoughtful and generous green gesture in our city. Darling Square demonstrates value being placed in the public realm for all and investing accordingly.