Sunday, March 19, 2023

Paddington Reservoir Park, Sydney Australia

The business district spread out along Oxford Street in the Paddington neighborhood.

I spent the winter of 2022-23 in New Zealand and Australia.  At the end of my trip I stayed for 9 wonderful days in Sydney.  Blessed with near perfect weather I fell in love with this dynamic metropolis and could see myself living there.  Warm almost tropical weather tempered by the proximity to the harbor and sea, it seemed like paradise.  Towards the end of my stay I spent a day at Bondi Beach, a beautiful arc of golden sand in a suburb.  The city has some beautiful beaches and this is the most famous. Flying home to the still chilly Pacific Northwest of the US made me wonder why I didn't stay longer.

Bondi Beach

When I boarded the bus from the beach to return to Surry Hills where I was staying, I got off so that I could walk through the Paddington neighborhood, which I hadn't explored yet.  I found the distinctive facades of turn of the century buildings painted in pastel colors to be quite charming.  Sydney has a variety of great neighborhoods spreading out from it towering central business district.  Paddington got its start when a road project was built that went around a land grant that the owner wouldn't allow to be crossed, pushing it in to this area  In 1822, Juniper Hall was the only building on what became Oxford Street, the main thoroughfare that passes through the neighborhood.  

Juniper Hall

The land Paddington built upon were old paddocks of Victoria Barracks, an early military housing site.  Merchants built shops to cater to the soldiers and a suburb grew without having an industrial base like other parts of the growing city.  The Paddington reservoir was built to supply the area's water needs.  It was completed in 1866 and was soon enlarged to the east, but didn't go in to operation until 1878.  Its lifespan as a working reservoir was only 21 years.  It was decommissioned in 1899 when a new larger reservoir was constructed in nearly Centennial Park.  It was then used for storage and later as a workshop.  In 1934 half of the space was leased to a garage service station which operated until part of the roof collapsed in 1990.  The Walter Read Reserve was a lawn with benches built on the roof behind the station that was a popular gathering place for residents.  It went in to disuse after the roof collapse, which was caused by corrosion of steel supports.  

The Reservoir Service Station  and the Walter Read rooftop garden on Oxford Street in 1964

There are lots of beautifully landscaped small parks iin Sydney that are well used by the people who live nearby.  They are well maintained place to walk a dog, sit on a bench, or bring the kids to play.  The climate here is wonderful for growing plants of great variety.  Sydney is sub tropical bordering on tropical.   The soil is generally very sandy but plants seem to thrive and grow to great size.  The light coming through a tunnel of giant trees is a wonderful thing in a big city and most streets are shaded by expansive canopies.  I walk most of the time when I'm traveling so I can discover things I would otherwise miss.  And I take a lot of photos along the way.

Giant Fig Trees create a tunnel of green on a side street in Paddington

Walking along Oxford Street,  suddenly I was looking down in to a sunken garden with arched arcades and the filigree umbrellas of tree ferns.  What I discovered is a repurposed reservoir that was built in the 19th Century to supply water to a growing city.

The Paddington Reservoir Park

In 2006 the architectural firm of TonkinZuliachaGreer Associates were hired to design a new urban park here.  The city's original concept was to recap the collapsed sections and build a new park on top, but the firm was rightfully captivated by the ruined look and the possibility of building a sunken garden crossed by an elevated walkway.  The Tree Ferns play off the Victorian fernery, which was a popular trend during the time Paddington was being built.    

A rectangular pool intersects with columns in a lush setting of Tree ferns and sedges.

An isolated section of roof makes an island hanging garden over the pool.

The plantings are fairly simple with limited plant pallet that gives the space a cohesive feel.  The tree ferns are various heights creating compositional triangles, which feel Zen, and bridge the garden combine beautifully with the arched arcades.   A wide staircase depends from the street level down in to the garden.

Tree Ferns create umbrella canopies over colored and textural masses of plants. 

Down inside, soaring columns lift your eyes up to the overhead architecture.  A shade trellis was built on cross beams in the open part of the restructured roof beams.  Cast in aluminum, the pattern is of the bricks of the former roof that had collapsed.  It connects a structural element that is very modern to the historical original in a most clever way.  Trailing plants create hanging gardens, draping the arches with greenery.  

Two nice iron gates restrict access to the areas of the reservoir under the original remaining roof, which is planned to be used as event space once the funds are available.  New wooden supporting columns painted a dark red brown replace the original cast iron columns to support the long brick vaults in the ceiling.  The added stairs await the time when the area will be accessible.  

Brick vaults are supported by new wood columns in a space that will be repurposed for events.

Being sunken, the garden is quiet compared to the street level.  There were a few people there doing a photo shoot but it was so peaceful and a delight to walk around.

The firm that designed the garden has a very impressive portfolio of work on a broad range of projects you can see here: This project  reminded me very much of parts of the Roberto Burle Marx Sitio Garden outside of Rio de Janiero.  Burle Marx, who has been called the Father of Modern Landscape Architecture incorporated historic architectural pieces in to arcades and walls in his private garden adding to the ambience of the old plantation the garden inhabits.  I imagine that the designers of the Paddington Reservoir Park are aware of his work in Brazil.  

Repurposed stone arches outside The Studio at the Sitio Burled Marx in Brazil

This Sitio Burle Marx wall was built using salvaged stone architectural pieces.  It was an inspiration for the creation of the Rajasthani wall I built in my garden.

A view from above looking down in to the sunken garden

A simple security fence with gates allows you to look down in to the gardens when they are closed.

Informational signs tell the history of Sydney's reservoir system and of the Paddington Reservoir site.

I love traveling and the adventures that unfold along the way.  I must have walked hundreds of miles this winter and seen countless inspiring landscapes.  So glad that I got off the bus and walked through this lovely neighborhood and happened upon this magical place.  Thanks for reading, Jeffrey

A section of the original walls is repurposed to create a large raised planting bed at street level.