Inspired by the historical context of a former brewery, this park by Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture uses materials that celebrate the character of the site.
It did not take the community of Chippendale long to adopt Balfour Street Park. Within a few months of the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, opening the new public space, toy soldiers had moved into the brick swale, with the help of local artist Will Coles, and a sculptured skull has been placed at its apex. Jane Irwin, of Jane Irwin Landscape Architects (JILA), says that it “shows how the park can be a canvas.”
Balfour Street Park, created as a gathering space for local residents, is located at the interface between Broadway (the former Carlton and United Breweries site) and Chippendale. It is a gateway to Central Park, which is a larger, ongoing project aimed at transforming the former brewery site into a mixed-used development. The project covers six hectares and will be a “high quality, sustainable and mixed-use development on Broadway,” according to the City of Sydney’s website. Designed by the City of Sydney in collaboration with JILA, and constructed by Design Landscapes for Frasers Property, Balfour Street Pocket Park was formed by closing Balfour Street between O’Connor and Wellington streets. It was opened on 10 June 2011.
The initial concept for the park, by Sue Barnsley Design, was “mediating between the new parkland adjacent, which is very large scale and minimal in design, and Chippendale, which has a much finer grain, [and which is] smaller scale and residential,” says Irwin. The concept has a clear north-south axis/drainage swale with a chequerboard paving pattern at its southern end. There is paving on all of the sides that face the street and building edges, as well as a central area of grass and existing trees. An east-west axis cuts across the grass and swale and ties these faces of the street together.
Balfour Street Pocket Park is the most recent of JILA’s public domain projects. JILA has retained the conceptual basis and spirit of Barnsley’s design and pushed it further by bringing a richness of detail that relates to the human scale. It also has Irwin’s characteristically strong feel for place, materials and people. Irwin says that it was “a challenge to retain both the simplicity of the layout, be robust and yet enrich it so that the park is fun to be in.”
JILA has achieved this in several ways. Firstly, the bricks are the dominant material. They are laid on two different axes with one section graded towards the drainage channel and the other towards the grass area. The contractors laid bricks on their edges which, as Irwin explains, relates to the face of the hand-held quality of the bricks in the surrounding buildings, and has a better scale and sense of craftsmanship in contrast to the brick pavers. Reflecting this, the Balfour Street Park project won the Horbury Hunt Brick Award for Urban Design and Landscape Architecture in 2010.
The brick swale, which includes pocket swale planting and low, arching antenna lighting, has protruding bricks to capture rubbish and slow water flow. The lighting along the swale provides a point of interest through the park during the day and at night. The swale is a “modest drainage intervention,” which Irwin calls a “demonstration piece” – although it does play a real role in draining the area.
The eastern edge was much narrower in the original concept, while the existing edge consists of trees that are at a higher level than the park. With the resolution of the levels, JILA was able to widen the edge in order to contain the trees with steel edging and the area will later address buildings that are part of the Central Park project.
The chequerboard pattern developed from Barnsley’s design uses a series of different materials that are references to the local area. An example is the trachyte from local kerbing, along with bricks and sandstone, all of which are seen in local architectural trims. The glass bottle pattern that Barnsley proposed was unachievable and a pattern was instead made from crushed beer bottles that reference the local brewery. The crushed glass captures the light and works not just as a rich, tactile surface but also as a deterrent from going over it. Concrete seats, which look as though they could withstand anything, were placed randomly in the brick paving to deter skateboarding in the park.
As is characteristic of JILA, the work is beautifully detailed. There is a balance between the overall scale of the place, achieved by using broader stretches of material such as grass and brick, and that of finely detailed sections. The larger areas of material act as a transition between the former brewery site and historic Chippendale, while the detailed spaces reflect the fact that this is a residential area. Balfour Street Park is not a hard-edged minimalist plaza-park. Instead, it is a space that recognizes that people still enjoy simple elements such as grass, shade and a focal point – somewhere from which they can watch the world go by.