Re-imagining the Concrete Lawn as a Wetland

Studio leader: Professor Ray Green

Studio Theme: Before the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus had been constructed the Union Lawn, AKA Concrete Lawn, consisted of an area of wetland feed by small stream. Initial development of the campus transformed this wetland into an ornamental lake, which was later filled in and replaced by a mixture of hard surfaces, plantings and other landscape features we see there today. Despite the original stream now being piped underground, Short Finned Eels still live in the undergrounded stream and regularly migrate from here to the sea to breed. The site is bordered by the Student Union, Glyn Davis Architecture, Raymond Priestley and the Baldwin Spencer Buildings. This centrally located area is a much-used space that holds great potential to be transformed into a new and exciting place incorporating constructed wetlands, referencing the original wetland once occupying the site, trafficable paved areas and vegetated spaces allowing it to continue to serve the important social functions it does currently while also making it a more sustainable place in terms of energy, water, materials, waste, ecology and community, including recognition of heritage values associated with the site.

Students had to consider how they would reference the wetland that once existed at this site in formulating their design proposals. This required them coming up with innovative ways of balancing references to the prior wetland with trafficable paved surfaces, terrestrial plantings and other landscape features that could facilitate a range of activities for the users of the site while simultaneously making it a more environmentally sustainable place through implementation of design interventions associated with the notion of sustainable urbanism.

Wetlands and humans have had a long relationship over the course of human evolution. Wetlands, being inherently highly bio-diverse places, would have been important to the indigenous Australians, the Wurundjeri people, who once inhabited the site, and who would have relied on the wetland that once occupied the site for the plant and animal resources it provided; for them it was somewhat the equivalent of a modern-day supermarket. Habitat Selection Theory [1,2,3] suggests that contemporary humans still possess affinities for wetland environments, however, they can also be perceived negatively as being “messy” and inhospitable places [4]. Students had to balance reimagining the Concrete Lawn as a wetland with the needs of current and future users of this space as a centre of student activity.

Studio Leader: Ray Green, who is a professor of landscape architecture in the Melbourne School of Design, has long held an interest in creation of sustainable urban environments and is the author or co-author of various books related to the notion of sustainable land development, including: Planning, Housing and Infrastructure for Smart Villages (2019); Coastal Towns in Transition: Local perceptions of Landscape Change (2010); The Green City: Sustainable Homes, Sustainable Suburbs (2005); Towards Low Carbon Cities in China (2015) and Design for Change (1985). Prior to joining the University of Melbourne in 1999, Ray spent 12 years in professional landscape architectural practice, with a variety of types and scales of projects in the United States and Mexico, Asia and Australia. In 2012 he was made a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects in recognition of accomplishments in the field. This is the second year Ray has offered this particular studio focusing on reimagining the Concrete Lawn with the aim of furthering his idea of building up an archive of design concepts and site analyses over time for this site. He also used the Concrete Lawn site as a study area for the Environment and Behaviour Methods for Design subject he also offers in first semester, with some students taking both the Studio 5 and Environment and Behaviour Methods for Design subjects, thereby helping them better understand the behavioural and perceptual dimensions associated with the site’s current users.

1Orians, G. H. and J. H. Heerwagen, J. H. (1992). Evolved responses to landscapes. In: J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides and J. Tooby (eds.). The Adapted Mind, pp. 555-579, Oxford University Press

2Orians, G. H. (1980). Habitat selection: general theory and applications to human behavior. In: Lockard, J. S. (ed.) Evolution of Human Social Behavior. Elsevier, N. Y. pp. 49-66

3Orians, G. H. (1986). An ecological and evolutionary approach to landscape aesthetics. pp. 3-22. In: E. C. Penning-Rowsell and D. Lowenthal (eds.) Landscape Meanings and Values, London, Allen & Unwin.

4Dobbie, M. and Green, R. (2013). Public perceptions of Australian freshwater wetlands. Urban and Landscape Planning. Vol. 110, pp. 143-154.