LESS is a public space and native garden at Dairy Road in Canberra, Australia. Dairy Road is a 14-hectare site on Ngunnawal land between the industrial suburb of Fyshwick and the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Currently Dairy Road is made up of warehouses, some office buildings and vehicle yards. The long-term vision is for an interconnected neighbourhood where various parts work together as one ecosystem. In time, 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 inviting places 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 studios and an indoor playground for kids.

When Molonglo acquired Dairy Road it featured an expanse of surface car parks, vehicle yards and inhospitable hardscape, with sparse non-native tree coverage and 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.

Part of the regeneration works includes LESS, an intentionally ambiguous structure and garden that has contributed to the evolving social landscape at Dairy Road by providing a landmark and gathering place, in an area previously ruled by asphalt. Designed with Pezo von Ellrichshausen, Oculus, Slow Growing Trees and Molonglo.

LESS consists of 36 concrete columns and a circular ramp leading to a viewing platform. A small, continuous and shallow stream runs through the structure’s columns, pooling and returning. The LESS garden features 8,500 individual plants, made up of 50 species all local to the Canberra region.

The LESS garden is a dry, dense bush landscape that subtly changes with six seasons according to the local Ngunnawal calendar, slowly becoming more immersive and equal to the built structure. As the plants continue to grow, the site will transform from its most recent concrete and industrial history to a softer landscape that references its pre-colonial ancestor.

The ambition for the LESS was to design a place that was eminently local, celebrating Canberra’s indigenous flora while introducing a degree of wildness and chaos to a site (and architecture) that is defined by uncompromisingly formal geometries. The plant life that evolved over millennia in the Canberra region is distinct for its muted tones of greens, greys and whites, floriferous winter and spring displays, and ability to cope with harsh temperature variation and long periods of low rainfall.

Along the ground-plane, single-species drift plantings of low-growing shrubs and groundcovers provide a painterly layer onto which interspersed matrixes of grasses, sedges and endemic wildflowers are planted. These drifts and matrixes are messy and disorganised in appearance and will move and morph with time.

A mid-storey of flowering shrubs – namely Callistemon, Grevillea, Melaleuca and Acacia species – are arranged in lyrical fashion, bringing mass and partial enclosure to the landscape. These plants will all deliver profuse displays of flowers at differing times of year, filling the air with Australian bush aromas. White and yellow flowers dominate, with occasional flourishes of reds, ochres and lilacs.

For canopy, Eucalyptus mannifera is used in two forms, its true species form as well as a cultivated dwarf form, E. mannifera ‘Little Spotty’. The thin white vertical lines created by the canopy plantings hint of dead trees in the landscape. Little Spotty is planted in tight copses resembling the ghostly multi-stem gums that grow from rocky soils above the snow line, with single plantings of Eucalyptus mannifera mixed in to rise above their smaller cousins.

So far, LESS has played a catalytic role in shifting perceptions of Dairy Road and supporting an emerging sense of public life as the neighbourhood evolves. The interconnected gardens and public spaces have proven suitable for both large-scale events and more intimate unstructured play, showcasing how industrial precincts can be sensitively reimagined.

Other landscape architecture offices involved in the design of landscape:
– Oculus Landscape Architecture + Urban Design
– Slow Growing Trees
Architecture offices involved in the design:
– Pezo von Ellrichshausen
1 Dairy Road, Canberra ACT 2609 Australia
Design year:
Year Completed:

Photo: Rory Gardiner


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