Endorsed by

Victoria Square masterplan

Long viewed as dysfunctional and underdeveloped, Adelaide’s central public space gets a thorough collaborative makeover.

The symbolic heart of Adelaide is now experienced as a patchwork of lawns, trees, flowerbeds, occasional statues and lanes of traffic.

The single most important public space in Adelaide has long been paralysed by inaction and conflict. Since it was first surveyed in 1837, Victoria Square has been modified and progressively dissected by the demands of the motor car. The symbolic heart of Adelaide is now experienced as a patchwork of lawns, trees, flowerbeds, occasional statues and lanes of traffic.

As recently as 2005, when the last masterplan was delivered with little fanfare or support, Victoria Square was still seen as a dysfunctional and undeveloped public realm. Since then, the square has rapidly matured. The introduction of the tram has created an urban connection with the rest of the city. The Commonwealth Law Courts and SA Water building provide a new scale and urban edge, and the development of a number of international universities adds to the square’s resident population.

With changes in the physical and social context came a change in approach by Adelaide City Council to the commissioning of a masterplan. Using recommendations from thinker-in-residence Laura Lee, a review panel of internationally recognized designers (including Dr Catherin Bull, Philip Cox, Professor Mads Gaardboe, Lawrence Nield and Malcolm Snow) provided a rigorous assessment process.

Kevin Taylor, director of Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL), expressed the importance of this process to the project team of TCL, Tonkin Zulaikha Greer and QED. With monthly critiques lasting all day, Kevin Taylor describes the momentum of the process as both intense and informative. The effort expended during the design development, as options were refined from twenty to ten to two and eventually to one, belies the simplicity and elegance of the resolution.

For TCL, the exploration of the Australian landscape is a constant and progressive narrative in their work. It appears to stem from a need to understand the physical and emotional connection that Australians have to their environment, be it the outback or the backyard. As with their other works, such as the Australian Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne or the Backyard Dreaming play space in Hindmarsh Square, the Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga masterplan redefines the idea of scale, context and landscape, questioning our contemporary understanding of natural and urban spaces. This is particularly apparent in the main design elements in the masterplan: the Mosaic Garden, the Grass Domain and the Grand Arbours.

The mosaic garden will reflect native South Australian flora.

The mosaic garden will reflect native South Australian flora.

The Mosaic Garden is an intimate spatial experience, a quiet corner of the city with a series of garden rooms that reflect a variety of South Australian landscapes. Located within the gardens are clearings that are homes for exotic plantings and productive areas that contrast and complement the native landscape structure. Kevin Taylor describes these clearings as one of the most exciting aspects of the masterplan, public spaces in the heart of the city that provide opportunities to engage with the environment. Visitors can interact with Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga as facilitators or instigators, exploring issues of food production, recycling, water sensitive urban design and sustainability.

Within the centre of the Mosaic Garden sits the Kaurna Centre of Culture and Performance Space, a place for the celebration of Indigenous culture. Rather than the usual commemorative approach, Kaurna culture is represented as progressive and living, a vital aspect in the programming and animation of the square. By contrast, the Grass Domain is a large open space that symbolizses the European lawnscapes of suburban Australia. Designed to accommodate events, ceremonies and congregation, the Domain capitalizes on the rising topography of King William Street to create an elevated performance space.

Critical to the resolution of the masterplan was the unification of the square. While the Grass Domain and Mosaic Garden order the function of the square, these spaces still appear fragmented, particularly with the retention of Wakefield Road. In response, the Grand Arbours represent single design gestures connecting and enclosing the square, providing permeability and openness. Kevin Taylor places considerable importance on the role of the Grand Arbours in unlocking the full potential of the masterplan in terms of the formation of spaces, the creation of edges and as a metaphoric representation of the South Australian landscape.

“Exploring the archetypal geography of Adelaide, with the horizon of the hills, the beach and plains in between, it was clear that any iconic structures in the square should respond to the horizontality of the South Australian landscape,” explains Taylor.

The symbolism of arbours reinterprets the horizon line of Adelaide, creating a sense of openness and spatial definition that is unique to South Australia. Each arbour becomes a new edge to the square, reflecting both inwardly and outwardly, reinforcing existing edges as well as activating new programs and land uses. These iconic landscape and architectural forms become a point of refuge and yet, at 20 metres wide, will create generous promenades, places of congregation, interaction and engagement. Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga is often maligned for being too big, having the wrong scale or lacking suitable activity to its edges. Yet the project team has used the square’s scale, sense of enclosure and inactive edges as drivers for its regeneration. The strength of the masterplan lies in the opportunity it provides for the individual to explore what it means to be part of a contemporary Adelaide, as either a participant or an observer.

It is the poetic contradictions represented in the symbolism, scale and function of the masterplan that will ultimately provide the city with a locally, nationally and internationally recognizable public space that still remains uniquely Adelaidean.


Design practice
Council Adelaide City Council
Site details
Location Adelaide,  SA,  Australia
Category Landscape / urban design
Type Outdoor / gardens, Public / civic
Project Details
Status Built



Published online: 1 Aug 2010
Words: Warwick Keates


Landscape Architecture Australia, August 2010

Related topics

More projects

See all
Storybook House inspires a childlike delight with its playful details, including secret compartments and an arched entry to the living room. Artwork: Sally Smart. Childlike delight: Storybook House

Folk Architects’ addition to a terrace in Melbourne’s inner-north stretches the limits of its compact site to create a pragmatic and surprising family home.

The central courtyard, lined with a landscaped garden, frames the sky and forms a pivot point around which daily life revolves. A calming plan: Courted House

Embracing the elements inherent in traditional courtyard houses, this home by Breakspear Architects in Sydney’s inner-west uses rational geometry in a way that is poised, …

Each house in this “dichromatic duo” has a unique identity inspired by the materials and geometry of Port Fairy’s built fabric. Dichromatic duo: Hello Houses

Perpetuating the verandah culture that exists in Port Fairy, a coastal town in south-west Victoria, this pair of houses designed by Sibling director Nicholas Braun …

The black and white palette is tempered in the kitchen by a marble splashback and spotted gum timber floors. Exploiting the vertical: House in Darlinghurst

This former electrical substation at the end of an inner-Sydney lane is recast as a couple’s contemporary home by Tribe Studio through the empathetic and …

Most read

Latest on site