Darling Square embodies a new urban typology; fusing landscape, architecture, art, food and culture. A captivating new world-class urban neighbourhood has rejuvenated the heart of Sydney. It is home to 4,200 residents, 2,500 workers, and more than 60 retail and food outlets, attracting visitors and locals alike.
The project is located at the southern end of Sydney’s CBD, sitting on the former site of an entertainment venue occupying which had occupied it since the 1980s. The venue’s demolition created a large, undivided plot in a pivotal location, and provided opportunity to create a new city neighbourhood. ASPECT Studios won a competitive design process and was commissioned by the developer, Lendlease, to design the public domain.
With a renewed sense of place and position, urban connections are forged, realigning and reconverging the city with its prior landscape and landmarks. With the new, public square as its focal point, the precinct also comprises a network of streets and laneways, and is bisected by a wide, pedestrianised boulevard. Darling Square’s pivotal location supports renewed social and spatial connections, transforming a previously isolated space into a place of integrated public life. With a renewed sense of place and position, urban connections are forged, realigning and reconverging the city with its prior landscape and landmarks. It stitches a precinct long considered an island back into the fabric of the city. The constraints of density have been leveraged in a design response that delivers civic generosity.
The previous master plan set the framework for the site, including a new community/mixed-use building, high-density residential, student accommodation and new commercial premises. ASPECT’s design responded with three primary design moves that challenged it to:
1. Create a platform for The Square.
2. Establish a true square, held on all four sides.
3. Create a community building ‘in the round’.
Lifting The Square created a seamless transition between the level of the surrounding buildings and retail. This move also provided an opportunity to clearly delineate between The Square and Tumbalong Boulevard, strengthening the city-shaping importance of the boulevard. The introduction of a canopy to the western edge of The Square created a ‘held’ plaza. Lastly, the establishment of a community focused building challenged the rigid geometries of the master plan and formed the basis of the brief for Kengo Kuma’s Darling Exchange.
ASPECT’s design addresses the shift in scale from its surrounds. Where neighbouring districts are platforms for events and thousands of visitors, Darling Square is a city neighbourhood. It is a place for everyday activities, a backyard for the community. This thinking informed the design at all stages.
Darling Square can be read holistically, or as a series of discrete spaces with their own character. Care has been taken to establish a clear sense of identity throughout, whilst also balancing its position as an integrated city precinct.
Everything has been designed with intent; from planting palettes, to using the indigenous, Gadigal language in custom elements, to mahjong tables that celebrate the link to the city’s Chinatown. The result exemplifies regenerative public realm design.
The boulevard is a linear parkland and city-shaping move that draws pedestrians from Sydney’s Central Station to the harbour. Under the shade of Eucalyptus, generous furniture elements are platforms for daily life, while the boulevard edge becomes a linear amphitheatre.
The Square upends classic rules of a ‘European square’ for to create a climate-centric, antipodean response. The result is a square in three parts; a square, a green and a grove. The spaces respond to climate, providing shade and cool surfaces for sitting, and allowing flexibility for events.
Zelkova serrata trees allow light to the ground in winter. Stone cobbles laid in traditional patterns reference the urban fabric of the 1800s, when this land was first reclaimed from the harbour.
The Square is held on four sides, creating a sense of containment and destination. Reaching out from the façade of the Darling Exchange, the canopy holds the edge, defining areas for seating, and leaving an open centre for myriad flexible uses.
On the east-west axis, two laneways punctuate, connecting Darling Square to the CBD. Each have their own character, with catenary artworks that create memorable identities.
Steam Mill Lane, in the west, is gritty and compressed. Pocket-sized terraces define dining areas and create ‘bump’ space that add to vibrancy. Fixed seating is dual-facing; providing retail and public seating. In areas, occupiable space shifts to the centre, inviting visitors to meander.
In the east, Little Hay St references its harbour-edge past with playful, ‘fish scale’ paving. It is both a night and a day space; connected to Chinatown and lit by neon artworks. At night it thrives with hole-in-the-wall food outlets. Fixed elements above the ground plane are minimised, allowing the laneway to act as a canvas for the vibrancy and eclecticism of city life.On the east-west axis, two laneways punctuate the site, connecting it to the CBD. The laneways bustle with retailers and have a character of their own. In both, catenary artworks create a memorable, visual identity.
In the west, Steam Mill Lane is a gritty, compressed space. Pocket-sized seating terraces define dining areas and create ‘bump’ space that contributes to vibrancy. Fixed seating is dual-facing; providing both retail and public seating. In the central section, occupiable space shifts to the centre, inviting visitors to slowly meander.
In the east, the paving of Little Hay Street referenced the site’s past, when it was part of the harbour, with a playful interpretation of fish scales. Fixed elements above the ground plane are minimised, allowing the laneway to act as a canvas for the vibrancy and eclecticism of city life.
Name of the project: Darling Square
Project category: Public Project
Role of the entrant in the project: ASPECT Studios (Landscape Architect and Lead for Public Realm and Revised Master Plan)
Other designers involved in the design of landscape (if any):
Lendlease (Client and Developer)
Kengo Kuma and Associates (Architect for The Exchange)
Peta Kruger (Lighting Artist for Steam Mill Lane)
Brendan Van Hek (Lighting Artist for Little Hay Street)
Denton Corker Marshall and Hassell (previous master plan design)
Project location (For publicly accessible projects please include exact address. For Private gardens place write Country or State):
35 Tumbalong Bvd, Haymarket 2000, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Design year: 2016
Year Built: 2019