Landscape Architects as Change Makers

Presented by University of Melbourne, RMIT University, and the Japanese Landscape Architecture Union.

This exhibition investigates the tactics and strategies used by Japanese and Australian landscape architects to implement innovative design outcomes that respond to the cultural and ecological specificity of their regions. Showcasing eight projects by award-winning designers, the exhibition presents a deeper understanding of how landscape architects operate within their conditions to achieve outcomes that positively contribute to environmental, economic, and cultural futures.

Working with audio-visual media, the exhibition mixes designer interviews, site footage and drawings to offer an engaging and immersive understanding of design thinking. Conversations with a further twelve Australian and Japanese landscape architects explore critical issues facing practice including questions of professional and cultural identity, the design possibilities of working outside the city and the role of global connections. Funded by the Australia-Japan Foundation this exhibition draws on cross-cultural reflections to rethink the way that Australian and Japanese landscape architecture is understood and presented offering shared opportunities for future development.

Why Digital Media?

Landscape architecture considers itself as an advocate and leader of change. However, its contributions tend to be communicated through project descriptions supported by a few hero shots or highly generalised discussions of sustainability and climate change, both of which fail to articulate how change is achieved. This project attempts to address this communication gap by exploring the potential of audio-visual media in presenting the contributions of landscape architects. Working with readily available technology such as gimbles, smartphones, and video editing software, a storytelling approach was adopted combining designer interviews with the strategic filming of completed projects. Following the storytelling advice of 'showing rather than telling', projects were filmed to reflect the design thinking of the landscape architect, along with capturing the dynamic aspects of landscapes that defy the still image such as the immersive experience of being in the landscape. Rapid dissemination is a further advantage of audio-visual media. The eight films are in a format that can be viewed, and most importantly shared, anywhere in the world, released from the limitations of more conventional text and image formats.

The full films are available at beginning with the Japanese films from May 15 and the Australian films from May 30.

Exhibition curators

Jillian Walliss is an Associate Professor in landscape architecture at the University of Melbourne. Her research explores the relationship between theory, culture, and contemporary design practice. She has published widely, including The Big Asian Book of Landscape and Architecture (2020) and Landscape Architecture and Digital Technologies: Re-conceptualising Design and Making (2016).

Heike Rahmann is a Senior Lecturer in landscape architecture at RMIT University. Her research combines design practices and contemporary urbanism with a special focus on theory, technology and urban ecology. Through her practice in Europe, Asia, and Australia, she has established strong partnerships with industry, community and government bodies, especially in Japan and Korea. She has published three co-authored books including Tokyo Void: Possibilities in Absence (Jovis, 2014) with Marieluise Jonas and The Big Asian Book of Landscape Architecture (Jovis, 2020) with Jillian Walliss.

In collaboration with

Saran Kim is a recent graduate of the Master of Architecture at the University of Melbourne. She works at Architectus and continues to be involved with the university as a professional staff member. Her practice crosses the fields of design, technology and media. Originally from Japan, and with a strong interest in landscape architecture, Saran’s involvement in the project has encompassed interviewing and translating Japanese landscape architects, exhibition curation, graphic design, web design and multimedia production.

Okutama Forest Therapy Trail
Toru Mitani After working at Peter Walker & Martha Schwartz Office and Sasaki Environment Design Office, Mitani established ‘studio on site’ with other partners in 1998. He is also a professor at Department of Architecture, University of Tokyo.

Okutama Forest Therapy Trail

studio on site

Change: designing a therapeutic experience along the steep hillside of an abandoned pine forest

Forest therapy trails are usually developed in native mixed forest. This 1.3 km trail presents a unique therapeutic experience in the monoculture of an abandoned coniferous forest. Located on the edge of Okutama village, the trail weaves along the steep northern slopes to develop a linear living room experience. Initially focusing on mental health, ambitions were expanded to offer access to the elderly population of the surrounding village. With a tight budget, finding an appropriate design language was challenging. The timesaver standards of forest civil engineering offered a starting point. Timber logs provided a budget-friendly building material. Tilted retaining walls were reimagined as a timber-clad backrest for seats, while decks and other furniture were constructed from polyhedron logs. Seating areas are carefully designed to rest the body in precise therapeutic positions, while platforms, structures and more informal seating draw focus to the sounds and the changing light conditions of the pine forest.

Nihombashi  Garden

Landscape Plus

Change: inserting a contemporary stroll garden onto the rooftop of a century-old department store

Located high above the busy streets of Nihombashi, this retreat offers an interpretation of a green roof that responds to a historically significant neighbourhood, while engaging with contemporary issues of biodiversity and urban heat. Influenced by the Japanese concept of the garden and the interior space as one unit, a gable-roofed space with an awning looks out across a rectangular reflective pool into surrounding gardens of native plants.  Working with the rooftop structure was a major design challenge, requiring the fusing of the pillars of the gable roof onto the existing building and the positioning of the pool, designed to be just 30 mm in depth, over the atrium, which is the roof’s weakest point. The space operates with a sense of openness and retreat -the retractable awnings offer shelter and can block out the surrounding urban skyscrapers, while smaller intimate garden spaces highlight seasonal change and re-establish habitats for birds and insects.

Nihombashi Garden
Tatsuya Hiraga is director of Landscape Plus and current Vice President of the Japanese Landscape Architects Union (JLAU). The practice has gained a reputation for its design approach, which explores the creation of local values. He is a passionate advocate for the landscape profession in Japan and Asia-Pacific.
Queen’s Meadow Country House
Michio Tase founded Plantago workshop in 1977 and engaged in a series of landscape design programs for housing projects in collaboration with SUM architects, engineers, and consultants. From 2008 to 2018 he was the principal of NORTH inc. agricultural corporation. He has been a visiting lecturer at Tokyo University and Chiba University for many years.

Queen’s Meadow Country House

Annex & Plantago

Change: living and working with ‘slow’ social and ecological processes in a rural community

An abandoned property has been transformed by a group of like-minded professionals into a living experiment that explores a more sustainable and meaningful lifestyle amidst Japan's declining rural areas. Located in a region known for its strong horse culture, the project seeks to establish new relationships between humans and horses.  Queens Meadow attracts a steady stream of visitors who come to experience an alternative to their urban lifestyles. Visiting requires active participation, with guests working on projects which respond to the specific values of the place. Over time the mono-culture pine forest slopes have been transformed with native plant communities. Organic and no-till farming produce food for consumption, while the charismatic Haflinger horses roam freely around the property. Queens Meadow offers guidance for revitalising Japan’s many abandoned rural places, looking to new projects such as natural burial and camping. Through cultural workshops, a younger generation of Japanese are encouraged to visit and become more empowered and resilient.

Hoshinoya Karuizawa

studio on site

Change: using water and topography to heighten the visitor’s experience of nature and contemplation

Hoshinoya Karuizawa is not a place where guests engage passively with panoramic landscape views from the comfort of their plush rooms. No matter what the season, the largely urban-based visitors, must experience a diversity of landscapes -natural and designed. Maximising a 30-metre site level change, existing forest clearings and hot spring infrastructure, the designers carefully threaded a sequence of watery internal and external spaces between the rooms and common amenities. Water is reinterpreted in multiple ways; a large central pond, streams flowing past guests' balconies and a shimmering water terrace adjacent to the great dining hall. These design moves required close collaboration between the contractors and landscape architects, carefully tracing water paths on site to retain as many of the existing Elm trees as possible and to understand the quantities of water flow. The sound and reflective qualities of water work together with mature trees to create a landscape of contemplation and retreat.

Hoshinoya Karuizawa
Hiroki Hasegawa Following his return from studying and working (Hargreaves & Associates) in the USA , Hasegawa formed ‘studio on site’ in 1998 with other partners. The studio is recognised as one of Japan’s leading landscape architecture practices.
Forest Edge Garden
Jane Irwin is director of Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture (JILA), a small multidisciplinary team with projects ranging from garden courtyards to city making. Crossing scale and project typologies, the common thread within the practice’s work is a process that is artistic, flexible, and appropriate.

Forest Edge Garden

Jane Irwin Landscape Architecture

Change: working carefully to learn how to live respectfully and carefully on the edge of a national park

Located in a disturbed landscape, this expansive bush garden showcases the unique ecology and aesthetics of the dry sclerophyll forest. Shaped by a collaboration between the designer, the client and a bush regenerator, the gardens and landscape surrounding the house have developed over time into landscapes of co-inhabitation. Native animals and birds such as rock wallabies, snakes, echidnas, and lyrebirds intermingle with the human occupants, each modifying the gardens to meet their requirements. The ever-present risk of bushfire informs the native grass and stone terraces leading from the spectacular lap pool (also a fire break and a subterranean fire refuge) to the wide veranda. A functional dam has been transformed into an idyllic water hole and a vibrant habitat for frogs, birds, and snakes. Working closely with a landscape architect over many years has helped ground the immigrant clients in the beauty and responsibilities of living in this unique place.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens

JMD Design

Change: inserting a garden retreat into a subterranean post-industrial site

The ruins of a mid-nineteenth-century water reservoir provided the opportunity to insert a sunken garden into a busy inner Sydney suburb. For years the reservoir had been fenced off to protect the public from unsafe structures. Sensitive to the mysterious character of the ruin, the design approach is minimal. Strategically placed staircases lead visitors into the brick-edged voids which were never designed for human occupation. Circulation is restricted to along the outer walls, leaving the central space for a lawn, reflective pool, and Victorian-inspired courtyard garden. A mix of eucalyptus, tree ferns and exotic plants suggest different temporal layers, heightened by the inclusion of an ancient Wollemi pine, while the upper level provides a multi-functional lawn. Parts of the site remain as closed vaulted space available for events and performances. A space of otherworldliness, the design is a rare example of a civic garden conceived without any cafes or programs to disrupt its restorative qualities.

Paddington Reservoir Gardens
Anton James is an accomplished landscape architect and artist with more than 30 years’ experience in the profession. In 2008 Anton, Ingrid Mather and James Delaney founded JMDdesign. His work pays particular attention to a sites specificity, character, and materiality in order to ennoble, accentuate and celebrate a site’s attributes and contradictions.
Grampians Peaks Trail
Nick Griffin is Co-Leader of McGregor Coxall's Melbourne studio where he is jointly responsible for the practice’s Victorian operations and leading project teams. Nick's expertise lies in leading and managing the design of complex ecological and cultural projects across transport, tourism, and urban development sectors.

Grampians Peaks Trail

McGregor Coxall

Change: elevating the hikers’ experience, while respecting the fragile ecology of a remote landscape

Strategically located along a 160 km walking trail is a series of overnight rest spots for hikers.  Tent platforms, communal shelters, gathering spaces and toilets interact lightly with the fragile ecologies, while offering relief from sun exposure and winds. Working in such remote sites combined with a limited budget required a strategic approach to construction. Elements were optimised and conceived as part of modules that could be flown in by helicopters or trucked via fire trails. An innovative use of materials responds to each campsite’s unique geology, colours, and biodiversity. Communal shelters are clad in a mix of oxidised mild steel, sandstone, bushfire-charred timber and organic cladding, while stone salvaged from the site was reworked into walls and steps. Elevated tent decks minimise the camper’s footprint while keeping insects and snakes away. This approach provides for the functional requirements of the hiker while maintaining the spectacular Grampian landscape as the true ’hero.’

Prahran Square

ASPECT Studios

Change: finding new civic space in a rapidly densifying inner-city suburb

After decades of densification, finding civic space for the growing population of Melbourne’s inner suburbs is a challenge. Sinking an existing car park to free up the valuable ground plane was the starting point for Prahran Square. Although described as a square, the space is conceived as a hybrid typology merging attributes of a park and a square. A raised architectural ‘ribbon’ delineates commercial uses from the civic space designed to support diverse experiences ranging from the intimate and individual to the potential for large-scale collective gatherings. A central space is defined by four sectors: a mythical Victorian forest offering escape and informal play, a stepped urban amphitheatre edge, a gentle relaxed lawn space of trees and movable furniture and a library with a scented garden. No sector dominates - a design decision that reflects the need for civic space to offer flexibility and choice to increasingly diverse communities.

Prahran Square
Kirsten Bauer is a Director of ASPECT Studios, an international design and landscape architecture practice. A respected design leader with over 20 years expertise in public realm and infrastructure strategy and design across Australia and internationally. Image © Peter Bennetts 2021.


RMIT University
Australia Japan Foundation
Japan Landscape Architects Union