Landscape Studio 5: Sustainable Urbanism - Studio A

Re-imagining the Concrete Lawn as a Wetland

Studio leader: Ray Green


Before the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus had been constructed the area currently known as the Union Lawn, also known as the Concrete Lawn, consisted of an area of wetland feed by a stream. The initial development of the campus transformed this wetland into an ornamental lake, which was later filled in and replaced with a mixture of hard surfaces, plantings and other landscape features we see there today. While the stream that once flowed through this area is now piped underground, Short Finned Eels still to this day migrate from the sea up this water course to breed. The site is bordered by four buildings, including the Student Union, the Glyn Davis Architecture Building, Raymond Priestley Building and the historic Baldwin Spencer Building. This centrally located area, while being a much-used space, has great potential to be transformed into a new and exciting place incorporating areas of constructed wetlands integrated with more trafficable spaces, allowing it to continue to serve the important social functions it does currently, while simultaneously making it a much more sustainable place.

Wetlands and humans have had a long relationship over the course of human evolution. Viewed from this evolutionary perspective, wetlands, being inherently highly bio-diverse places, would have been important to the indigenous Australians, the Wurundjeri people, who once relied on the wetland that once occupied this site for the plant and animal resources it would have provided. Habitat Selection Theory suggests that contemporary humans may still possess affinities for these wetland-type environments. Wetlands can, however, also be perceived negatively as being “messy” and inhospitable places. In the re-design of this space, students had to consider these and other theoretical propositions. Students explored how this site could be re-imagined to reference the wetland that once existed at the site while transforming this highly prominent location on the campus in to a well-loved and more sustainable place. They were expected to develop design proposals that incorporate not just areas of wetland and associated plantings but trafficable surfaces, and associated terrestrial plantings, that could afford a broad range of activities while simultaneously incorporating a range of sustainability features in their designs in terms of energy use, ecology, materials, human socio-behavioural interactions and other design considerations associated with the notion of sustainable urbanism.