Darling Quarter

Project Name: Darling Quarter

Recipient: ASPECT Studios

Client: Lend Lease and Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

Project Team:

  • ASPECT Studios
  • FJMT
  • David Eager
  • Hyder
  • Waterforms International
  • Deuce Design
  • Speirs + Major
  • Arup
  • SJB
  • Ramus Illumination
  • Lend Lease Design

Project Address: 1-25 Harbour Street, Sydney NSW 2000

The Darling Quarter playground has transformed the public experience of Darling Harbour - creating a new destination for families that offered play experiences to the widest of demographics. A key design driver was to provide opportunities for the very young (0-2) through to teenagers and another was to integrate the playground into its surrounds and make its edges porous and connected – inviting the city and more distant communities into the space.

The diverse play experiences were created by an emphasis on elements for use in multiple ways and by children. Single use elements for individual play were minimised and the play elements designed to incentivise co-play and participation. The following principles were employed:

  • Interaction with nature and natural materials as central to the play landscape
  • Include an array of physical opportunities encouraging development of agility and strength
  • Challenging play experiences that include acceptable level of risk to engender a culture of children taking manageable risks
  • Waterplay elements that incentivise children to participate and socialise with others to manipulate and create a variety of water experiences

The design was developed with a strong belief in the importance of balancing risk, socialising and joy to create a play environment where children are challenged yet can develop their agility and strength through play. Throughout the design process the elements and equipment were assessed rigorously with a philosophy of ‘acceptable risk’ rather than an absence of risk. The land form is thoughtfully designed to enhance surveillance and allow views across the site whilst creating seat steps at the perimeter, providing gathering places for carers and parents and negating the need for obstructive fencing.

The bespoke design of the water play environment includes an array of interactive elements. It promotes socialisation and cooperative play and with sluice gates, switches and steel water elements it references the industrial history of Darling Harbour. The site itself straddles the original Sydney shoreline that was filled in the early 1900’s to make way for industry.

The water play elements form a highly sculpted landscape which folds between constructed streams and boulders. There are no fences and the playground with its toilets, café and shade structures are treated as integrated pieces of the public domain. The strong use of planting, timber elements, sand, mulch and water have resulted in a space that is an attractive and inviting park with integrated play opportunities.

Local community engagement

ASPECT Studios conducted the following community engagement throughout the design process:

  • Intercept surveys of people using previous playground in Darling Harbour
  • Studies conducted on types of visitors to Darling Harbour
  • Workshops with Sydney Foreshore Harbour Authority management and maintenance staff


  • Rainwater is harvested in a 300,000 litre storage tank and distributed throughout the public domain for irrigation
  • Energy efficient lighting strategy
  • Trees and understory plants include indigenous, native and exotic species
  • Recycled site concrete is used as the drainage layer under soft-fall and base material under paved areas
  • Salvaged sandstone and trachyte stone used within the playground as feature elements
  • Relayed Salvaged brick pavers