Dairy Road is a 14-hectare site on Ngunnawal land, in an area known as Biyaligee. Across the limestone floodplain that is now called Canberra, fertile grasslands and forests were fed by freshwater streams and springs. Traditional Custodians hunted, fished and harvested from the land for tens of thousands of years.

Since colonisation, Dairy Road has served many purposes – a dairy farm, a space for food production, a location for military training. An important part of its recent history is as a place of light industry. Rather than following the worldwide trend of relegating productive activity to the outskirts of a city, Molonglo, the site’s developer, has focused on retaining light industry at the heart of the neighbourhood. Over the next ten years, light industry, working, living, recreation, retail and entertainment will all take place in a restored landscape.

A careful adaptive reuse approach to date has been undertaken to create spaces for a diverse new community of makers and producers. Interior architectural insertions designed with Craig Tan Architects in existing 1970s warehouses have created space for workers and visitors to linger, gather and share. A range of large and small tenants have moved into these affordable refurbished spaces, including coffee roasters, spirit distillers, a brewery, chocolatiers, a co-working space, a gallery, a theatre and an industrial design studio. Recreation and wellbeing services have also found a home – a bouldering gym, indoor snow sports, yoga and an indoor playground for kids.

When Molonglo acquired the site it featured an expanse of surface car parks, vehicle yards and inhospitable hardscape, with sparse tree coverage and non-native planting relegated to the fringes. Since 2017, pockets of public space have been gradually and deliberately reimagined. In an incremental process, the northern and southern perimeters and in-between spaces around the central warehouses have been converted from sealed tarmac to permeable planted areas as part of a long-term vision of landscape regeneration.

Designed with Oculus, Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture, BlueBell and Slow Growing Trees, landscape works have created a series of functional spaces that allow complementary uses within buildings to spill out into the public realm. The Stream is a popular play space for children comprised of grassy mounds, a small stream and native grasses. A breezeway of ferns, known as Fern Alley, provides more sheltered seating and shade in hotter months. The Laneway is a mosaic of salvaged paving and repurposed burnt out trees and ground and tree ferns. Together, these distinct spaces punctuate a larger green spine, which occasionally occupies the adjacent buildings, breezeways and alleys that feed and contain it.

At the tip of the gardens sits LESS, a public space and native garden designed with Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Oculus and Slow Growing Trees. Its exact use is undefined, inviting the community to activate as they see fit. Comprising 36 concrete pillars and a circular ramp leading to a viewing platform, a small continuous and shallow stream runs through the structure’s columns. The garden features 8,500 individual plants made up of 50 local species. As the plants grow, the site will resemble a more resilient landscape that references its pre-colonial ancestor and is sensitive to the area’s changing climate.

The Dairy Road site’s northern gardens are a more radical experimentation of regenerative practice that challenge preconceived notions of beauty. These gardens feature 11,000 individual plants made up of 70 local species. Prior to planting, contours and banks were created in the soil to capture and store water giving the gardens an uneven, bumpy quality.

The garden is arranged in clusters featuring a more vertical area with fast-growing wattle species, strewn repurposed limestone boulders and a dense understory of local wildflowers. Another area transitions from a directly-seeded grassland to a dense shrubbery. A shaded courtyard resembles the wetter areas of the surrounding mountains. A frog pond is fed by water redirected from a nearby roof.

Rather than having an endless war on weeds, non-harmful weeds are welcomed as ground cover and to play an important role in soil health. As the native grasses self-seed and multiply, the ratio of weeds to natives will decrease.

The built and landscape works to date have transformed Dairy Road from an underutilised urban island site to a creative and inclusive precinct with annual visitation of 800,000 people. The landscapes have established a new urban quality for an industrial area and play a catalytic role in supporting the evolving neighbourhood. The gardens and public spaces have proven suitable for large-scale events and more intimate unstructured play. In contrast to typical models of urban renewal, the landscape interventions at Dairy Road have been iterative – allowing for fluidity, flexibility and productive experimentation.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape:
– Oculus Landscape Architecture + Urban Design
– Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture
– BlueBell
– Slow Growing Trees

Architecture offices involved in the design:
– Craig Tan Architects
– Pezo von Ellrichshausen

1 Dairy Road, Canberra ACT 2609 Australia
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