Australian National University

PROJECT Australian National University

LOCATION Acton, Canberra, ACT

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Knox and Partners and Harris Hobbs and DSB

The ANU is Canberra's oldest and largest university nestled at the base of Black Mountain. The university was established in 1947.

Today the campus consists of a series of diverse buildings nestled in a park-like setting of exotic and native plants. The 145 hectare site is made up buildings, tree lined roads, Sullivan's Creek, a sculpture walk, sporting fields and open space, courtyards and remnant vegetation. Remnants of savannah woodland which pre-date European occupation include Eucalyptus melliodoraE. blakelyisE. bridgesianaE. mannifera and E. rubida. These tend to occur at higher elevations, particularly on Acton Ridge.

In 1993 Sydney based firm Knox and Partners (then known as Knox and Tanner Pty Ltd) prepared a Strategic Landscape Plan to guide the landscape development of the university grounds. The overarching concept was to enfold the setting with the landscape character of nearby Black Mountain whilst developing verdant courtyards associated with particular buildings. Three landscape axes order the site – these are Sullivan's Creek, University Avenue and Acton Ridge.

Whilst Knox and Partners continue to regularly advise on landscape development, a number of Canberra based Landscape Architects have been involved in preparing detailed plans for specific areas – these include Harris Hobbs and DSB.

DSB have been responsible for the design of a number of landscapes associated with ANU buildings. These include the Japanese style courtyard at the Asian Studies Building, the native courtyard at the Zoology and Botany Building as well as the entry space to Graduate House.

Garden of Australian Dreams

PROJECT Garden of Australian Dreams

LOCATION National Museum of Australia, ACT


Challenging conventional ideas of landscape design and the tension between culture and nature, the design of the Garden of Australian Dreams stands in marked contrast to the picturesque setting of the Acton site. Variously called the 'Playground of Australian Dreams' and the 'Garden of Australian Nightmares', Room 4.1.3's design of the Garden of Australian Dreams is both provocative and memorable.

A truncated circular-shaped lower level courtyard is surrounded by buildings and overlooked, through portholes, from the main entry terrace. Access to the garden is indirect, requiring navigation through the main hall, down a flight of stairs, along a corridor and through ubiquitous glass doors. After passing through a crescent of deciduous trees, planted at an angle on grassed mounds, the viewer is confronted with a contoured ground surface overlaid with multiple grids, text and wandering tangled lines.

A plantation of Eucalypts terminates the view and a black tunnel and white cube invite exploration. The cube, together with palm tree, kidney-shaped pool, lawn and perched gnome, provide a comforting suburban reference. The cube also becomes an ethereal container from which to view the sky. A second access point through the Gallery of the First Australians is obscured by a heavy metal awning.

References and symbols abound. A mannerist approach to horticultural elements and the association of tunnel and cube with grotto and folly continue European garden traditions, whereas surface undulations, water treatment, scale and exposure, together with the use of materials, simulate an Australian continental experience. Topographic installations provide a narrative of land exploration and appropriation and include surveyors' staffs, fences, flood level gauges and dead trees. Cultural icons, such as a set of blue poles, are also referenced.

Dianne Firth,
Head of Landscape Architecture, School of Environmental Design,
University of Canberra, Canberra ACT 2601.

August 2001

National Gallery of Australia and High Court Precinct

PROJECT National Gallery of Australia and High Court Precinct


LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Harry Howard & Associates

Harry Howard & Associates were commissioned in 1978 to design the landscape setting for the proposed High Court and the National Gallery – two prominent buildings within Canberra’s parliamentary triangle.

The design for the Sculpture garden challenged the predominantly exotic landscape of the parliamentary triangle and used an Australian bush character as a setting for overseas sculptural works. The landscape was divided into four main areas based on the seasons to ensure year round interest in plant material.

In 1994, the site was listed on the Register of the National Estate. A survey of practising Landscape Architects indicated that this was one of the most significant landscape projects to the profession and community.

Parliament House Gardens & Precinct

PROJECT Parliament House Gardens & Precinct


LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT Rolland & Associates and Mitchell Giurgola Thorp Architects

In 1979, the combined team of Rolland & Associates and Mitchell Giurgola Thorp Architects won an international design competition to design the buildings and landscape of New Parliament House.

The design for both the building and landscape was based on geometric form and intense order but in keeping with a ‘pliable and enfolding landscape’. The American based Landscape Architects conceived an exotic lawn covering the building - symbolic of Australia’s passion for grass. Until recently this lawn was viewed as part of Australia’s democracy with visitors encouraged to stroll over its surface. With increased concern regarding terrorist attacks this is no longer permitted.

The landscape design incorporates a large minimalist forecourt, internal courtyards featuring both native and exotic plant material, playing fields and tennis courts, formal terrace gardens as well as a bush landscape with walking trail.