Nature Play at Royal Park


Recipient: City of Melbourne

Client: City  of Melbourne & Department of Health & Human Services

Project team: 

  • Design - City of Melbourne - City Design Studio
  • Managing Contractor - Lendlease

Project address: Corner Gatehouse Street & Flemington Road, Parkville VIC 3052

Nature Play at Royal Park is a part of the partnership project between City of Melbourne and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services to re‐establish parkland on the former Royal Children’s Hospital site. The project is a prominent new gateway for Royal Park that responds directly to feedback from the community and the valued character of Royal Park. The seven Wurundjeri seasons of Melbourne are central to this new landscape, informing the structure, planting and play experiences of the space.

An extensive community engagement process encouraged input from locals, broader metropolitan Melbourne, and across the state, reflecting the regional role of the park, and the important relationship to new Royal Childrens Hospital (RCH). This engagement process drove the brief to include nature based play and be inviting and accessible to the whole community.

Engagement with children, young people, RCH patients and staff, and a range of other specialists in child development and play underpinned the project.

Unique to this process, was permission from the Wurundjeri to incorporate elements of the seven seasons in the design, and researched various sources to collate knowledge of the seasons. The project team was keen to explore these stories with children, to understand what parts of the story were most engaging.

The result is an engaging corner of Royal Park that is rich in experience. It offers meandering paths, open flexible lawn spaces, places to gather and meet, to reflect and retreat, and connection with big skies. It centres around active and imaginative play spaces built upon the new landform of hills, gullies, grasslands and creeks, connecting with the existing parkland in two distinct ways. The grassy mound provides a backdrop to the new space creating an invitation to explore the expanses of Royal Park or just roll down the hill. It celebrates the dramatic nature of Royal Park with long views up to the grassland circle and of the contrasting view back to the city skyline. On a more intimate scale, the gully spaces are set up against the existing woodland to embed these within the vegetation fabric of the park which has encouraged play activity to extend into the unstructured spaces of the broader parkland.

Children of all ages are encouraged to scramble and climb, get wet and dirty, and be challenged. People of differing needs are considered, with special attention paid to how the space could be inclusive and allow people to be and play together. It is not unusual to see a medical team wheeling a patient in a hospital bed up to the edge of the water play.

Designed to evolve over time, users are invited to look deeper to see the layers and seasonal change within the landscape. This approach has had real resonance with the people of Melbourne and beyond, building appreciation, engagement and respect for the space.

From a strategic and horticultural perspective, building a resilient landscape has been a priority, allowing the space to provide a legacy for current and future generations.

The new space connects inner city children with nature through play and education has been central to the new space, fostering appreciation of the environment in association with Park Ranger programs, building knowledge and ensuring that future generations become active stewards of the natural environment.