Adrian McGregor: Strategies for Parramatta Road

McGregor Coxall’s Adrian McGregor discusses the urban design strategies for revitalizing a 23-kilometre growth corridor in Sydney’s west, from a competition won ten years ago. The plan is so over-arching (read, ambitious) it has not been adopted in full, though elements of it have been percolating through the planning machinery for years. McGregor spoke to Julian Bolleter and Richard Weller for the 2013 Urban Issue of Landscape Architecture Australia.

Julian Bolleter / Richard Weller: What was your role on the project?

Adrian McGregor, McGregor Coxall.

Adrian McGregor, McGregor Coxall.

Adrian McGregor: I was joint lead consultant with Choi Ropiha Fighera. We had a large multidisciplinary team of various consultants who provided technical input. The project commission was the result of winning an international design competition. Team members were responsible for delivering different parts of the strategic framework. The project was delivered through many design workshops in which ideas were shaped, debated and agreed on.

JB / RW: As a landscape architect what particular skills/perspectives did you bring to the process?

AM: As we were working in a twenty-three-kilometre growth corridor, many of the strategic ideas were related to infrastructure and urban regeneration. As landscape architects we brought an understanding of the macro processes of the city. Our understanding of urban systems helped underpin the plan.

JB / RW: How much input did you have into the master/structure planning and policy development for the project?

AM: As the joint lead consultants we generated approximately 50 percent of the strategy in conjunction with our design partners.

JB / RW: Were there particular urban design skills you lacked that your landscape architectural education could/should have provided?

AM: The project traversed many realms, from politics and economics to infrastructure and design. These processes can only be understood from practice or research: it would be unreasonable to expect they could be taught inside an undergraduate program. Landscape architecture education provided us with the enquiry, analysis and design skills required to complete the project. Our ability to conceptualize the problems of Parramatta Road and reframe the solutions through the wider context was important.

The vision for Parramatta Road’s regeneration includes light rail to alleviate traffic.

The vision for Parramatta Road’s regeneration includes light rail to alleviate traffic.

Image: Courtesy of Sydney Central

JB / RW: How did the team respond to you as a landscape architect in the urban design realm?

AM: There were no disciplinary silos in the project; everyone had equal input into the design process. We worked night and day in a truly collaborative environment and the skills of each individual were drawn upon to enrich the project. During the competition phase of the project we came together to debate the key issues and formulate our design strategies. As such, the conversations shaped the project approach and led to the selection of our consultant support team. With our team in place we commenced the drawing and report-making phase of the competition.

JB / RW: How could landscape architecture courses better prepare students to play an effective role in urban design?

AM: There could be additional education for those who would like to specialize in design and policy in the urban realm. It would be beyond the scope of the undergraduate landscape architecture degree to provide all the skills necessary for a specialization in urban design. However, it is important that students are taught a high-level understanding of the macro processes of the city and the role that they can play in shaping urban environments. Students need to develop skills in working across disciplines with other built environment students. Skills formed in group work build a foundation for later progression. The landscape architecture school should ensure students understand the workings of other disciplines and how they interact to influence design outcomes.

The recent Infrastructure NSW blueprint for Parramatta Road.

The recent Infrastructure NSW blueprint for Parramatta Road.

Image: Courtesy of Sydney Central

JB / RW: How has the issue of Parramatta Road evolved since 2002?

AM: Since the Parramatta Road Strategic Plan was completed in 2002 there has been little action regarding delivery and the road remains choked with traffic and pollution. Laissez-faire development of apartments on opportunistic sites is occurring without supporting public infrastructure. Sydney continues to sprawl and invest heavily in peri-urban infrastructure while leaving the inner west to cope with increasing congestion. The western metro line identified in the plan was investigated and then launched by the previous New South Wales government but was subsequently abandoned due to purported action by the rail unions. Recently the Property Council of Australia and the NRMA both revived some of the development and transport ideas contained in the Strategic Plan. The fact that these ideas continue to surface ten years on is an indicator of their continuing worth to the city.

Moving away from public-transport-led urbanism, the New South Wales government has released the WestConnex road infrastructure plan that includes a 1960s-style open-cut motorway under Parramatta Road connecting the M4 to the city. In a roads-led recovery plan for Sydney, Infrastructure New South Wales has justified the investment in roads on the basis that most people in Sydney use a motor vehicle as their preferred mode of transit, so Sydney needs more roads. While connecting the M4 was a central part of the Parramatta Road Strategic Plan it should not be seen as a panacea for the urban corridor. Without the requisite investment in public transport and green infrastructure the Parramatta Road corridor will remain a blight on the city. Unfortunately, successive governments have been unable to grasp the need for a comprehensive set of urban strategies that make the most of the urban corridor, preferring to tackle pieces of disparate infrastructure.

Project synopsis

Not since the international competition for Canberra has Australia undertaken such an ambitious urban design project. The competition, which shortlisted MVRDV and Ken Yeang, was won by Sydney Central. Our team planned extensive renewal beyond the twenty-three-kilometre Parramatta Road corridor presently choked by eighty thousand vehicles each day, proposing that Sydney mature from its “harbour-centric” view to embrace the west as a major sustainable growth area. A blueprint for the revitalization of the decaying two-hundred-year-old thoroughfare between Sydney city and Parramatta CBD was prepared. The project will deliver outcomes in regional planning; urban design; business precinct development; employment; public transport; traffic management; environmental quality; and partnerships between spheres of government, business and community. Can Sydney be more than the harbour?
McGregor Coxall


Design practice
McGregor Coxall
Sydney, NSW, Australia
Project Team
Adrian McGregor, Philip Coxall, Rupert Carmichael
Consultant Choi Ropiha Fighera, Stanisic Associates Architects, TTM Consulting, VIM Design, The Revolution, King and Campbell, Hill PDA
Site Details
Location Parramatta,  Sydney,  NSW,  Australia
Project Details
Status Built
Completion date 2002
Category Landscape / urban
Type Public / civic



Published online: 17 Jun 2013
Words: Adrian McGregor
Images: Courtesy of Sydney Central


Landscape Architecture Australia, February 2013

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