OCULUS is a cross disciplinary design studio creating public domain projects that aspire to be challenging, contemporary and multi-dimensional places, encouraging many levels of engagement with the site and those that occupy it. The studio has a commitment to projects that bolster social interaction, increase public amenity environmental sustainability and that contribute to the public life of cities. OCULUS is a design-based practice that takes pride in the breadth of its work, encompassing the design of parks, gardens, public places, cultural landscapes, streets, urban plans, architectural structures, paper based speculations and furnishings.
OCULUS has had a fascination with, and has been responsible for, the delivery of public spaces for well over 20 years. It is from an acknowledgement of the value and role of civic spaces that we begin our work. Our starting point is to understand the context of the site and the direct contribution that public space can make to the quality of our built environment. As urban designers and landscape architects concerned with public life, our work addresses the conditions which contribute to the on-going success of a place — socially, culturally, economically and environmentally. Our work is equally concerned with how people connect to each other and to place space as it is about experiential and environmental qualities.
OCULUS’s work is founded on the belief that people and their interactions form the core of great public space. Our focus is on the everyday routine of daily life rather than on spectacle, style and event. We work to create designs that connect people to one another and to their larger environment – a dialogue between the individual and the collective that is physical, sensorial, phenomenal, and at times intangible.
Our work is an amalgamation of urban design, landscape architecture and architecture. We believe that the design of landscape is most powerful when the skills and expertise of all disciplines are encouraged to mix freely and openly; when boundaries are blurred and potentials explored. We believe that we have an important role to play in facilitating this exploration. Our process is highly varied and includes hand drawing, physical modelling, digital modelling and technical documentation.
Don Hoover and Bob Earl founded OCULUS in 1993 with a focus on the design of public space and the exploration of public experience. The practice has grown over the past twenty years to include studios in Melbourne, Sydney and Washington DC.
Landscape Architect: OCULUS Landscape Architecture & Urban Design (Collaboration with Fender Katsalidis Architects (FKA))
Located on a peninsula on the banks of Tasmania’s Derwent River, The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is the largest privately owned museum in Australia. Enmeshed between landscape and architecture, compression and revelation the design creates a spatial logic from accreted existing buildings, and the siting of the new museum.
OCULUS’s engagement with the Moorilla Estate, extended from the master planning of the 16 hectare through to museum opening. The master plan sought to satisfy two main objectives: the first was the need to create a spatial logic out of the site’s existing accreted development, connecting the winery and brewery, function centre and two heritage listed Roy Grounds’ houses ,;the second need was to site a major new museum, a number of luxury accommodation units, outdoor performance spaces and a new ferry jetty.
OCULUS enhanced both the existing site and the new development’s sense of enclosure and intimacy framing views and connecting to sweeping panoramic views. Episodic sequences enabled seamless connections between new and existing spaces. Through the detailed use of material, planting and topography, MONA’s landscape is a direct response to the changing, non-linear nature of the interior gallery spaces – creating a landscape that is both dynamic and symbolic, embedded in the buried building below.
The creation of MONA promotes a shift in the design of cultural landscapes, that emphasises immersion and the value of shared experience, sustainability celebrated though decadence and that spectacle can make reciprocal demands of its audience.
Landscape Architect : OCULUS Landscape Architecture & Urban Design (Collaboration with John Wardle Architects + NADAAA)
The Melbourne School of Design occupies the site of the former Faculty of Architecture Building & Planning at the University of Melbourne. The design of the new landscape endeavoured to embody best practice, reflect the school’s built environment disciplines, demonstrate construction techniques through tectonic forms, extend the materiality and language of the campus and establish a re-considered relationship to the adjacent heritage Old Commerce Building. This complex multi-level landscape, inextricable from architecture, in a significant heritage context, meant effective collaboration and co-ordination with both the consultants and the University was paramount. Extensive consultation and engagement was required to ensure that the ambition of a Living Learning Building was met whilst maintaining and enhancing the University’s design standards.
Through close collaboration with the University, the architects and broader design team we ensured that: the architecture and landscape formed a connected ground plane; that the pedagogic program of the faculty was supported externally expressing the creative and collaborative processes of the school to the broader university campus and community; improved connectivity to and through the building and campus beyond; and the expansion of an ‘identity through materiality’ strategy that knits together the urban fabric of the Parkville campus. Our design response was driven by a preoccupation with the use of the campus open space and involved mapping and observation of user behaviour and experience. We used proxemics to drive our design of informal external learning spaces – creating multiple spatial zones: intimate, personal, social and public.
Landscape Architect: OCULUS Landscape Architecture & Urban Design (Collaboration with Fender Katsalidis Architects and the Molonglo Group)
The NewActon Precinct is a mixed use development centrally located between the Australian National University, Civic and the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. Consisting of four principle buildings in a campus-like setting, including the heritage listed Acton Hotel, the entire 20,000m2 precinct is characterised by the use of the spaces between the buildings, enriching the daily lives of those who work in, live in or visit. The various activities catered to within the site include residential, boutique hotel, offices, commercial, lifestyle businesses, restaurants, cafes and cinemas.
OCULUS’ engagement resulted in a ‘whole of site’ approach to both the private and public domains. The landscape design plays an essential role knitting together the various outdoor spaces, architectural styles, artworks and installations. At NewActon the landscape is no longer confined to the periphery of the buildings, here it is allowed to flow down the facades, nestle on the rooftops, run through the buildings and house a series of architectural and sculptural elements. All the buildings are connected by an integrated landscaped public realm, incorporating heritage courtyards and contemporary spaces. The series of external spaces both complement and connect with the buildings’ interiors. As a result, the precinct is one of the most highly activated areas of Canberra with residents, workers and visitors freely mingling and enjoying the both internal and externals spaces from early morning until late at night. Central to the process has been the collaboration between the client, architects, landscape architects, the art consultant and other designers resulting in a blurring of disciplines and the creation of a vibrant, highly activated and diverse precinct.
The vibrant Rouse Hill Town Centre is a new town centre servicing Sydney’s North-West growth corridor, including significant retail, leisure and commercial uses complemented by community facilities. The master plan strongly established principles of connectivity and permeability, whereby the Town Centre was firmly embedded into the wider region by means of visual and physical links to key landscape elements such as Caddies Creek, Mungerie House heritage precinct, parks and streets.
Rouse Hill Town Centre’s basic structure features two main streets intersecting at the Town Square and dividing the town centre into four quadrants. A continuous circuit of pedestrian laneways, running through the heart of each quadrant and connecting back to the main streets, provides the primary pedestrian circulation route and links a variety of spaces along its length. The public domain design sought to create a richer, more sequential experience. A unique approach to place-making was adopted for the design whereby for each particular space, the qualities of similar successful spaces were analysed, the ‘layers’ that contributed towards creating a rich urban environment identified, and designs then developed, reviewed and tested.
Detailed climatic modelling was used to inform the design of public spaces, particularly in terms of providing a wide variety of types of cover for external spaces, thereby mitigating the extremes of weather and making the environment pleasant all year round. One of principal aims behind the design of the public realm has been to create a range of spaces to cater for needs of the community in all the activities of their daily lives. Each space was designed to address its own unique requirements whilst still forming part of a legible whole.