Harmony Garden


Recipient: Simon Ellis Landscape Architects

Client: Mirvac, Owner: Melbourne City Council 

Project team: 

  • Simon Ellis Landscape Architects: Simon Ellis with Kirsty Fletcher, Aaran Merril and Natasha Lamb
  • Artwork - Musical Instruments: Neil McLaghlan and Emilia Storm
  • Musical Instrument Fabrication: Harmonix Instruments and X-Product
  • Photography: Erica Lauthier

Project address: Point Park, Point Park Crescent, Docklands VIC 3000

In our prescriptive, safety-conscious world, playgrounds are too rarely designed to let children explore new environments or test their personal boundaries. This is ironic, considering the huge volume of research confirming the importance of unstructured play in building children’s confidence and resilience, helping them make new friends, and stimulating their imaginations.

This is the philosophy behind Point Park’s Harmony Garden: a unique play-space in the heart of Melbourne’s Docklands. Harmony Garden does not fit any easy category; part playground, part urban wilderness, part music-sculpture installation, it transcends several genres – and provides a unique new template for constructive ‘community play’.

Be as inclusive as possible

Initially intended for young children, Harmony Garden’s commitment to community-oriented planning resulted in a play-space that genuinely appeals to all ages and abilities. The central installation – an 11-metre wall strung with metal gongs and bells, set beside three drum-seats – provides a diatonically-tuned ensemble that can elicit music from the most untrained hand. (As proved by a local primary school, which composed a tune for its launch in under an hour!). Around the park, brightly-painted ‘flower bells’ nestle among their real-life inspirations, inviting passers-by to play them with their custom-moulded stamens. All the bells are fully accessible, and every instrument sited to bring music-makers together.

‘Community of play’ approach

This 2,000m² play-space was designed to soften and counterbalance its high-rise surroundings, and provide a variety of experimental environments that appeal to different interests. The bright sculpture-bells and flowering shrubs invite the young-at-heart to strike a chord, climb a grassy knoll, and collect natural treasures. As well as the musical features, adventurous youngsters are drawn to the robotic digger in the sandpit, the water-pump in the creek-bed, the companionable double-slide. The permeable edges between different play areas encourage children to get their hands dirty: to dig in the sand, splash in the stream, collect leaves and seeds – the ‘outdoor pastimes’ so often lost in the sanitised order of our city lives.

Incorporate community consultation

To alleviate residents’ concerns about the musical installations, Mirvac and Simon Ellis hosted a well-attended demonstration, with prototype instruments to play and listen to. Public feedback together with on-site decibel readings were then used to refine the bells, with follow-up information provided through residents’ newsletters. The instrument wall was sound-proofed by placing it against a grass mound, which together with the heavy wharf timber acts as a natural acoustic barrier. Mirvac reports that the community’s response to the project has been “overwhelmingly positive” – borne out by widespread praise across the local media.

Incorporate best-practice sustainability

The landscaping of Harmony Garden was strongly influenced by its unique riverside setting. The plan included a careful mix of local and exotic plantings in wild ‘drifts’ – creating a rich variety of sheltered and open spaces, smooth and rough textures. Resilient ‘weatherproof’ plants were chosen to endure the exposed environment, and care taken to retain existing trees and rejuvenate rain-gardens to capture overflows from the creek-bed. The instrument wall was constructed entirely from recycled timber. A full maintenance program was provided to the Council, including spare parts to maintain the instruments for 15 years.