Hassell transforms a former drive-in theatre into a residential site, retaining valued bushland and parkland.
As design professionals charged with making place, landscape architects have a responsibility to understand and interpret the typological syntax of landscape. That is, to create effective place, the designer needs to be aware of how the grammar of an urban square differs from that of a freeway, a rehabilitated wetland or a suburban residential development. Equally, effective design is often a balance between tradition and innovation. The landscape design for the new residential development of Lakeway in metropolitan Western Australia is a good example of landscape architecture that demonstrates confidence in syntax and a resistance to unconscious design.
Located in the town of Claremont, the thirty-nine-lot residential estate of Lakeway is only eight kilometres from the Perth CBD and as such is almost a city suburb. The estate, which was developed by the Town of Claremont on the former Lakeway drive-in theatre site, is a pocket park scale of development compared to the periurban estate developments that stretch along the coast, such as Brighton, Alkimos to the north and Ellenbrook in the Swan Valley. And it is the scale of the development as much as the location that enables the landscape design of the site to be read and experienced holistically.
Much of the recent suburban development in Western Australia has been based on new urbanist planning theory which promotes creating community. Unfortunately, in many instances the notion of designing a community, often projected as “a sense of place,” has been interpreted as themed residential landscape design on the premise that applied aesthetics create place. Ironically the late George Seddon, author of the polemic Sense of Place, entreated landscape architects to capture the genius loci of a place by following a design manifesto that was strongly embedded in re-creating the natural landscape rather than importing an artificial aesthetic.1 Both design approaches, the themed landscape and the naturalistic landscape, are restricted by literal or formulaic applications. Given Lakeway’s location in the affluent western suburbs of the metropolitan area, landscape design could have been predicated on any number of approaches without unduly affecting the sale value of the land. Ultimately, the design approach taken by landscape architect Carl Thomson of Hassell was strongly influenced by a synthesis of site and culture.
Connecting to the broader community, landscape became the driving influence of the Lakeway landscape design. Although Seddon described this as identifying the genius loci, a more embracing theory is that of landscape phenomenology or topophilia. The emotive response to place, such as how people recall place, has its roots in phenomenology, the study of the knowing of place through experience.2 Topophilia, an ideology that expands on phenomenology, suggests that the emotional ties people have with place are not so much bonds with place per se as with the values symbolized by place.3
The value most strongly expressed after an eighteen-month period of public consultation was a call to preserve and enhance the existing remnant bushland. As a result, the Town of Claremont allocated 30 percent of the development site to public open space. By treating the estate landscape as part of the larger community landscape, the residential development is now used by the adjacent community as a conduit to other destinations such as schools and the local reserve of Lake Claremont.
Thomson used a range of strategies to achieve a design that is quietly confident, creating both a landscape thread and a community landscape. He resisted the impulse to create a “you are here,” signed gateway to the estate entrance; rather, he subtly suggested a change of location through the juxtaposition of strong geometric elements against a swath of soft landscaping. Referencing the 1950s remnants of the Lakeway drive-in landscape, these striking white geometries create an enigmatic threshold to the estate.
Similarly, the lookout and crossing “keeps” are artful interpretations of natural and cultural elements designed to weather and take on a seasonal patina. Circulation is an important aspect of the landscape design. Streets are lined with Agonis flexuosa, which on maturity will afford a pedestrian cathedral of trees, while a formed concrete boardwalk, pathways and access steps ensure recreational walkers and schoolchildren have new options for traversing the landscape.
Notwithstanding the general success of the landscape design, two aspects of the estate design disrupt the cohesiveness of place: the residential built form and the literal historical narrative.
Serial vision, a theory advanced by Gordon Cullen and described in Gestalt psychology, is based on the notion of enriching the pedestrian experience by designing a range of elements into the public realm.4 Described by Cullen as the furniture of possession, elements such as enclosure, focal points and differentiated floorscapes all contribute to the richness of pedestrian experience. Enclosure, which can be achieved by street tree planting and built form, creates a pedestrian-scaled environment and a sense of security.5 At Lakeway, the scale of residential development, while creating enclosure through the lack of facade articulation, ignores streetscape amenity. Despite residential development applications being governed by design guidelines to ensure adherence to sustainable development, to date the built form has paid little attention to scale, hence the pedestrian experience.6
The second disruptive design element is found in some of the public art work. Forming part of the interpretative artworks, a series of etched aluminium storyboards and other devices such as embossed text in the Lakeway landscape provide a glimpse of some of the historical narratives of the site. There are inherent complications in the literal expression of narrative, often a design requirement of the client, for example, whose narrative is told? Does any one narrative take precedence? What of the new narratives that inevitably evolve with place? Acknowledging the various narratives of a landscape is a vexed aspect of landscape design, with the default often expressed in cliched forms such as extracts of stories which appear as sanctioned graffiti.
Discussing the impulse for landscape architects to create meaningful landscapes, Marc Treib in Must Landscapes Mean? suggested that in reaction to the somewhat formless ecological landscape design that dominated the 1960s and 1970s, landscape design in the 1980s became captivated by the need to make form, and for form to be meaningful.7 Pointing out a 1980s predilection for a range of cliched design ideas, such as spiral forms, earth cuts aligning with the sun and the borrowing of vernacular symbols to articulate space (such as Martha Schwartz’s frog garden in a shopping centre in Atlanta, Georgia), Treib argues that despite obvious symbolism and iconography, meaning can only accrue over time. He writes that design can, however, “circumscribe the range of possible reactions to a designed place.”8
Herein lies the strength of the Lakeway landscape design. Thomson’s eucalypt-inspired lookout, the timber gabion seating, the theatre screen and the circulation between built form and rehabilitated landscape frame the experience of the landscape, offering a stronger and broader opportunity for engagement than that of the literal narrative, perhaps read once and left to fade as new experiences create new memories.
Location is usually emphasized in real estate as a marker of value. While the western suburbs location is undeniably a key element of the attractiveness of the Lakeway development, the quietly confident landscape grammar employed by Thomson is the catalyst to the engagement with place.
1. George Seddon, “The Genius Loci and Australian Landscape,” Centre for Environmental Studies, University of Melbourne, http://www.aila.org.au/LApapers/papers/seddon/loci/default.htm, 2010.
2. The philosophical method and movement that had its origin in the work of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) and later by Martin Heidigger(1889–1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and M.Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961).
3. Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values, (Prentice-Hall: New Jersey, 1974).
4. David Gosling, Gordon Cullen: Visions of Urban Design, (Academy Editions: London, 1996), 219–220.
5. Gordon Cullen, The Concise Townscape, (Architectural Press: Oxford, 1961), 17–55.
6. Town of Claremont Design Guidelines, Lakeway, http://www.lakeway.net.au/Lakeway_DesignGuidelines.pdf
7. Marc Treib, “Must Landscapes Mean? Approaches to Significant in Recent Landscape Architecture,” in Simon Swaffield (Ed) Theory in Landscape Architecture, (University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 2002), 92–95.
8. Marc Treib, “Must Landscapes Mean?” 89–100.