The Central Courtyard, Macquarie University

The Central Courtyard Precinct at Macquarie University improves the educational experience by integrating student values at the core of its design. It takes the form of a green heart for the University campus that supports students socially and emotionally. The precinct expands and blurs educational conventions to create a generous outdoor space that elevates and repositions campus life.

The former courtyard precinct embodied the cultural and historic memory of the University’s origins. Over a number of decades it had suffered, from a series of master planning manoeuvres that diminished both its functionality and significance. Our purpose as landscape architects was to conceive of the conceptual framework that would restore the space as a “beating heart” for the campus, with purposefully designed spaces and places that draw the active centre of gravity back to the Central Courtyard. The courtyard and its surrounding spaces are now re-established as the campus’ primary precinct.

The Central Courtyard is intended to form multiple functional and symbolic roles, inclusive of being a central place for the university community to gather and meet, a place of performance and interaction, a facilitator of legible cross-campus connections, a place that celebrates new and rejuvenated campus architecture, and a place that, on a significant level change from south to north, amplifies the campus’s physical and visual connections to the surrounding contextual landscape of Mars Creek.

The revitalisation of the Central Courtyard was informed by the pedigree of the existing campus, which is defined by a collection of modernist and brutalist buildings arranged in a rolling picturesque landscape. A careful arrangement of courtyards, trees and other points of interest form a diagrid that echoes the original plan for the campus laid out in the 1960s by architect-planner Wally Abraham.

Tree planting has always been the feature of the campus heart, and whilst the former tree grid of Eucalyptus citriodora created a visually striking grove, they were in poor health and required removal. A significant amount of discussion with the client and their ecologist established a replacement strategy that would be appropriate for the future vision of the courtyard. The final agreed tree specimens were Fraxinus ‘Urbdell’ to the outer edge and Flindersia bennetiana to the inner edge – chosen for the way they would grow to establish trees of consistent form and scale from installation

As part of the wider redevelopment, new student housing supporting 342 students has been brought into the heart of the campus, establishing a vibrant student life centred around the courtyard. The permanent student presence brings a resident community to the campus, with the aim to establish an 18-hour/6-day economy that supports new food and beverage and student services on site, and ensures the new open spaces are inhabited and lively throughout the day and into the evening.

The choices made across the courtyard and the broader precinct reflect an attention to wellbeing, an emphasis on ecological guardianship, and an awareness that a move toward more fluid work practices require spaces that collapse boundaries. Fringed by trees carefully positioned to maximise solar access in winter and provide shade in summer, the trees provide shelter to outdoor dining areas, supporting the new food and beverage hub that is active during the day and well into the night.

The elevated lawn provides opportunity for informal sports and recreation, a pop-up library, live music and performances.  The amphitheatre adjacent to Mars Creek provides a space that bring the university and wider community together through events such as dance, theatre, movies, lectures, ceremonies and workshops.

Mars Creek had languished for years in a system of underground pipes under rolling hills of turf that served no defined function within the University.  As part of the requirements for building and stormwater management, the underground network of pipes would need to be upgraded. The project team utilised this as an opportunity to expand the brief, beyond providing an overland flow path, the creek would be restored and rehabilitated as a daylighted system.

In addition to creating a picturesque landscape, this part of the project doubles as a significant act of environmental repair. Since the creek was rescued from its underground warren, an abundance of fauna has returned, and all sorts of animals can now be observed on its banks and in the air above it. Consequently, this simple act has enhanced biodiversity and urban cooling, creating an opportunity to educate younger generations on sustainable practices, and reunited the built campus with its natural surrounds.

A key design challenge was delivering a world class university precinct development, but within the very practical and real constraints of budget and maintenance. A large-scale water feature cascades from the central courtyard, down the graduation stairs, terminating adjacent the graduation hall. This symbolic and dramatic moment in the landscape was critical to the design but was only achieved through ongoing engagement with the University, maintenance staff and a suite of professional designers, builders and engineers.

Macquarie University (Client)
Architectus (Architecture)
ARUP (Engineering Design for all disciplines)
Capital Insight (Project Management)
WT Partnership (Quantity Surveying)
Morris Goding Access Consulting (Access Consulting)
FDC (Construction Contractor)
SCP Consulting (Civil and Structural Engineering)
Phil Goodwin (Water feature consultant)
GJ’s Landscape (Landscape Contractor)

Project location: Macquarie Park, NSW 2109, Australia

Design year: 2019 – 2021

Year Built: 2021

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