The Future Park International Design Competition was an unusual competition. Unlike iconic park competitions such as the 1858 competition for New York’s Central Park, the 1982 competition for Paris’s Parc de la Villette, the 1999 competition for Toronto’s Downsview Park and the 2001 competition for New York’s Fresh Kills, Future Park did not have a specific site. And in contrast to ideas competitions that ask for the site to be found or created (as with LA Plus journal’s call to design an island or International Competitions in Architecture’s series of houses for architects), there was a real city (Melbourne) for designers to grapple with. This combination of the unconstrained nature of an “ideas” competition and the limitations of grounding within place, meant that the entries hovered at the brink of possibility, presenting a wealth of inspiration for the city of Melbourne and beyond.
With more than 120 entries from twenty countries, the competition judges faced an incredible variety and volume of ideas, and thanks to my fellow jurors’ depth of knowledge, humour and stamina, judging was a rich and rewarding process. The jury included Jill Garner (Victorian Government Architect), Julia Czerniak (associate dean and professor of architecture at Syracuse University, New York), Mark Skiba (GHD), well-known philanthropist Susan Alberti, recent landscape architecture graduate Reuben Hore-Waterhouse, with myself as the jury chair. Our complementary skills, experience, and areas of knowledge led to many interesting debates and discussions, and ultimately to the difficult decision of prize winners.
Design as critique
Future Park’s top three entries all demonstrated how design is a form of critique, as well as the generation of ideas. The winning entry, The Gap, by Marti Fooks, Claire Winsor, Suhas Vasudeva and Jacqueline Heggli, is remarkable for the way it simultaneously criticizes the nine percent pay disparity between men and women in the state of Victoria, and uses this gap as a spatial driver for the design. Echoing the legacy of green belts and wedges that extends from visions like John Claudius Loudon’s “breathing places” for London (1829), The Gap proposes a park of breathtaking size, and offers a valuable vision for the establishment of an “XL”-scale park in Melbourne.
The two equal second entries also offer insightful critiques of contemporary culture. Parker Model by Alter Atlas Architecture is striking in its graphic audacity – an entry in a park competition that contains no green. Through a persuasive analysis of the overlooked potential of plot ratios, Parker Model is powerful in the way it points out the latent possibilities for park space in Melbourne. While many entries left the “how?” question hanging, Parker Model provides a tangible answer.
Also in second place, Alex Breedon’s The NBN is a very entertaining entry that questions the lack of a national biodiversity aspiration in Australia. While infrastructure, sport and education all have a national planning framework, a comprehensive approach to plants and animals is lacking. With a tongue-in-cheek narrative and a design language drawing on the “real” NBN’s vocabulary of corridors and nodes, the scheme encourages discussion on the need for a national level biodiversity policy and on the immediate possibilities for addressing this issue at a local scale.
Overall, 31 entries were shortlisted for exhibition, including the first and second-placed entries, and seven honourable mentions. A number of themes were evident among the shortlisted entries, and in the same way that formalistic manoeuvres characterized the entries for Parc de la Villette, and concepts of indeterminacy and ecological emergence infused the zeitgeist of Downsview Park and Fresh Kills, these themes are the “indicator species” of design thinking in 2019.
The most prevalent theme among the shortlisted entries is the adoption of infrastructural corridors and structures as the armature for parks. As shown by The NBN, above, existing infrastructure is the latent structure for park systems. Resonating with landscape ecology theory, with its language of corridors and networks, entries such as Melbourne 2051, Parklanes and From Past to Last (Honourable Mention) draw on blue, green and grey infrastructures to drive park spaces through the city fabric. Some entries placed the infrastructure underground to free up space, as in FuturePark: A Living Network, which buried the rail network, and Non-Place to Place, which built the park space out over the Monash Freeway, realizing an opportunity that had been overlooked in the past.
Changes in transport technology will lead to redundant infrastructure and many competition entries drew on the potential of space freed up by ridesharing and autonomous vehicles. But what about all of the empty carpark buildings? Multi-deck Parks proposes repurposing these redundant buildings as park spaces that collect rainwater and offer green space, spaces for food production and activities including outdoor film screenings. New elements added to transport infrastructure create variations on the use of space in the city, like the SHARK (SHare-pARK), which proposes a system of mobile multi-level parks moving like trams, or the new tram system in Exhibition Line. Streets as Parks imagines retaining the rail infrastructure but filling the streets with food production, a vision of future-proofing food supply.
While infrastructure emerges as a latent park network, other opportunities for park space are seen in the creation of space by building ground over existing terrain or into the sea. Winning entry The Gap builds a swathe through Melbourne’s west and Dynon Valley and Pro Tempore also seize upon the possibilities of finding space among the transport interchanges and industrial areas in this part of the city. Dynon Valley creates a new landscape, a park setting built around trees and water that becomes home to 61,000 people, making space for Melbourne’s rapid population growth. By contrast, Pro Tempore re-imagines the same site as a non-inhabited parkland focused on the remediation of contaminated land, with an aerial path network that provides links between areas of the surrounding city.
Building land into the sea creates space, but unlike reclamation for docklands and industry, Bay Park and Sea Line Park make new land for parks. Bay Park is a recreational island built from fill generated from construction and is carefully placed to serve the needs of Melbourne’s largest growth area. As a visionary link across Port Phillip Bay, Sea Line Park is a seven-kilometre multifunctional causeway that includespedestrian and cycling routes, underwater tunnels and a floating seed bank as a repository for the preservation of vegetation.
Extreme weather and sea level rise
The possibilities of building out into the sea draw attention to the future relationships between Melbourne and its ocean edge. Might a future park be made of water and mud, rather than earth and vegetation? Mud Bourne imagines such a park. Rather than retreating from rising sea levels, the proposal advances toward the emerging landscape of muds and silts. Or could the city be inverted, to become a wilderness, a green space where only the smallest remnants of its era as an occupied urban area remain? The vision of Parks and Restitution is one of yielding to climate change and proactively making space to recover biodiversity, so the ten-kilometre radius boundary defined by the Future Park competition becomes the edge between a 30,000 hectare wild landscape and the city beyond.
The Future Park competition brief located the scenario thirty years in the future, and Forecasting for 2050 focuses on the heat-related health impacts of what is predicted to be a 1.8 degrees celsius temperature increase from pre-industrial levels in the next three decades. The parks in this entry aim to work with wind and water to modify climate effects and imagine underground spaces as retreats for people, plants and animals.
Alongside speculation on the dramatic changes ahead, restoring ecologies in the city informed several shortlisted entries. A Constellation of Streams concentrates on the river as a potential place of small parks. Through a careful study of the river’s morphology, areas that could support small, ephemeral parks are located and imagined as places of ecology and recreation. The Ø5KM Park also focuses on Melbourne’s Yarra River (Birrarung), developing green infrastructure and using water sensitive urban design to enhance the river’s ecology as the core of an encircling park.
The intertwining of ecology and Indigenous understandings of land provides the inspiration for both Country Adrift and Lines No Fires Could Burn (Honourable Mention). Through restoring 25 hectares of wetland along the Yarra River, Country Adrift presents the prospect of enhanced biodiversity, increased water quality and a spectacular new landscape. Lines No Fires Could Burn returns ecology to the streets of Melbourne, together with rituals and emerging practices which enhance the cultural richness of place.
Culture and History
Attention to the ecology and Indigenous relationships with the land are complemented by an understanding of history. Very few entries focused specifically on history, but Continuous Ground (Honourable Mention) poetically re-organizes elements of the city to bring the Indigenous ground beneath the city into sharp focus and simultaneously activate another part of the city through the relocation of the Queen Victoria Markets. The controversial displacement of one piece of history – the Markets – to honour another, the Aboriginal burial ground, provokes some deep thinking into how parks can be political statements.
Shuffling the pieces of history is one way of reorientating relationships within the city. Other opportunities for new thinking arise from changing what might be considered the stuff of parks. City of Melbourne Open Sky Strategy turns us towards the night sky and its vulnerability to light pollution. Diurnal rhythms, including night darkness, are vital for all living things, and a park that promotes the reduction of light emissions through driverless cars, light-reducing glass and forms of recreation that celebrate darkness can enhance the wellbeing of all.
A reorientation towards nature amplifies how parks are often framed in anthropocentric ways, but can parks be just for insects? Plan Bee (Honourable Mention) develops an incremental strategy for bee-friendly spaces in residential gardens and presents a challenging “messy” aesthetic for spaces in the city. Suburban gardens are also components of the humorously presented Meta Homes and Gardens, a rethinking of relationships between wilderness, city and gardens that challenges conceptions of land ownership and the divisions of space.
And what of the dead, where might they be accommodated in Melbourne’s future city? Bodies could be recomposed into the soil and then located within the network of gardens and parks across the city, as suggested by Revive: Cemetery as Public Space.
School spaces too, present the possibility for a reorientation of thinking about the components of the city. Seeds of Change (Honourable Mention) uses schools to drive thinking about the building of community and the potential of connecting people into the landscape through a personalized seasonal calendar. No longer are 9am to 3pm locations limited to the education of children, instead schools become a familiar and welcoming park network.
Changing rules and relationships
The second-placed Parker Model vividly illustrated the possibilities that arise from thinking differently about rules. Quantitative rethinking was also the basis for Forty-five New Squares (Honourable Mention) which demonstrates Melbourne’s lack of market squares in comparison with other large cities internationally. The vision of appropriating a range of potential sites to foster food and community as vital elements of a densifying city is a tangible one. Health and wellbeing is also at the core of Suburb as Park, which seeks to create a more active landscape in response to the chilling statistics around heart disease.
Design competitions also provide a snapshot of graphic approaches. In the Future Park entries, the “machinic” imagery of landscape urbanism appears to have melted into a gentler attention to the texture and tones of natural and cultural systems. Many of the entries were notable for the atmosphere they generated, such as the serenity of flooded Melbourne in Mud Bourne or the dystopian bleakness of Pro Tempore. While earlier media coverage of the competition entries misinterpreted a reference to utopian thinking as manifesting frivolous and fantastical ideas, many schemes evoked the utopian imagery of blue skies, blue water, glowing healthy landscapes, and joyful citizens. And where in the past, a helium balloon or even a bird, might have provided graphic garnish for renders, the decoration du jour is the drone, often seen hovering above the imagined parks.
An Expanded Field
In challenging entrants to locate a park and then design it, the very definition of what a park is has been called into question. “Park” invokes visions of substantial green spaces, as much as small insertions into the urban fabric. The breadth of entries ranges from the esoterically philosophical through to the efficiently pragmatic. The locations and designs presented in the Future Park entries have expanded the field of the thing we call “park,” and will continue to inspire future discussion and debate. The proposals identify what is holding back the development of parks – the rules, regulations, overlooked possibilities, car-centric values and architecture-dominated urban fabric. The Future Parks competition laid down a challenge to designers and they, in turn, have set out challenges for the public, planners and politicians for how to now realize this richness of ideas.
The Future Park International Design Ideas Competition
The Gap by Marti Fooks, Claire Winsor, Suhas Vasudeva and Jacqueline Heggli
Joint second place
The NBN by Alexander Breedon
Parker Model by Steven Chu, Nikola Sormaz, Kate Johnson and Alessandro Antoci
Bay Park by Greg Teague, Tom Emrys-Evans, Daniel Drummond, Mark Reilly, Simon Zhao and Kendal McQuire
Continuous Ground by Fionn Byrne
Seeds of Change by Ceci Lathrop, Mo Ritchie, Carl Shepherd, Naomi Barun, Anthony Corbett, Sarah Bridges, Derrick Lim Wei and Jonathan Daly
Lines No Fire Could Burn by Jon Shinkfield, Damien Pericles, Tom Rivard, Alaric Hellawell, Brett Schreurs, Luciana Acquisto, Ross Privitelli and Watkin McLennan
Mud Bourne by Benjamin Hardy-Clements and Joshua Gowers
Melbourne Dynon Valley 2050 by Conybeare Morrison, Farrells and Tract
Forty-Five New Squares by Britta Klingspohn and Heribert Alucha (Open Studio Pty Ltd Architecture) in collaboration with Marian Schoen (Food Systems) and Professor Simon Biggs (Gerontology and Social Policy)
Revive: Cemetery as Public Space by Yiling Shen and Yuchen Gao
Streets as Parks by Fernando Nebot Gomez, Elisabeth Judmaier, Kay Strasser (from the Bauchplan Collective)
Plan Bee by Yi Wang
Melbourne 2051 by David Cardamone
Pro Tempore by Daniel Ichallalene and Ailish Cook
Forecasting for 2050 by Freya Cameron and Olivia Bloch
Parks and Restitution by Steven Chu, Nikola Sormaz, Kate Johnson and Alessandro Antoci
Meta Homes and Gardens by Tianyi Luo and Thomas Huntingford
Melbourne from Past to Last by Saran Maiprasert, Pakkasem Tongchai, Thanatcha Tangsuksawangporn, Nithirath Chaemchuen, Sorat Sitthidumrong and Patarita Tassanarapan
Non-Place > Place by Ata Tara and Duncan Gibbs
Sea Line Park by Yidong Zhao, Jing Peng, Jicheng Dong and Yu Chen
Country Adrift by Martin Nguyen
Melbourne Parklands Masterpark for Marvellous Melbourne: A Continuous Green Corridor to Bring Wildlife back into the City by Chua Hong Zhi
A Constellation of Streams by Diah Paramita, Muhammad Razaq Raudhi, Ken Fernanda and Haidar El Haq
Suburb As Park by Keith Brown, Naomi Gilbert, Laura Oakley, Trevor Shilton, Stephen Horan, Gabriel Moczar, Tom Roberts, Shimon Regev, Kurt Cole, Matthew Mackay and Chloe Street
Future Park Competition Exhibition Line by Travis Walsh, Will Riley and Felix Zhan
ø5km Park by Ethan Reid, Scott Greenhalgh, Sam Gould, Greer Carmine, Divya Bishnoi, Henry Crothers, Cory Manson and Zac Thorp
SHARK (Share-park) System by Qidi Li and Xiaobo Zheng
FuturePark: A Living Network by Andrew Bason, Patrick Graham, Greg Pitts and Kathy Bawden
Multi-deck Parks by Matthew May, Mark Janetzki, Adrian Vecino and Sung Chua
City of Melbourne Open Sky Strategy by Alex Georgouras
Published online: 1 Mar 2020
Words: Jacky Bowring
Landscape Architecture Australia, February 2020