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Bench Musings - Connection to nature

Trumper Park, Paddington

The land surrounding Sydney Harbour with it's topography of sandstone hills and valleys has created a unique landscape upon which our city and suburbs have grown.

To have a city on the harbour with bushland at it's edges creates many opportunities to explore our connection with nature, both in the public and private realm. It is so wonderfull to still have remnants of the pre-historic landscape that existed well before white man settled ( invaded ) the land.

Vestiges of a temperate rainforest exist in the low lying regions, close to natural waterways that formed through the sedimentary rock over the years. On the plateaus bushland of native eucalypts remain intact, in some areas re-introduced to create a tree canopy after development has cleared the land.

Having experienced a childhood on the edge of the bush on the North Shore of Sydney and now living close to a valley of remnant rainforest in the Eastern Suburbs, the connection to this natural environment was and is a huge part of my daily life.

Currently Sydney is experiencing unprecedented growth with new developments shaping our city, for the better and for the worse. A couple of years ago I was involved with the editorial direction of the Bulletin, examining this growth and focusing on this incredibly important work of Barbara Shaffer, Landscape Architect for the Office of the Government Architect : Architecture Bulletin Winter 2015 - The Green Grid.

I also interviewed Sacha Coles, Landscape Architect, director of Aspect Studios, responsible for many award winning public spaces in the city . Architecture Bulletin Winter 2015- The Goods Line designed by Aspect Studios

Many years ago I collaborated with Sacha and his team on a number of smaller landscape projects that formed part of the design for houses and apartment buildings I was working on during my time as a Graduate at Turner Associates. The process of working with a Landscape Architect or designer is one I value greatly.

When designing a new home or alteration and addition, how we can connect the living spaces to the natural environment drives every concept. Terrace Houses, semi-detached homes and free-standing Federation bungalows were typically not designed with outdoor living in mind. The rear courtyards and gardens are often disconnected and under-utilised spaces. In a climate like the one we experience in Sydney, with endless summer days and mostly cool clear winter ones, we can take advantage of outdoor living and the benefits of being in nature.

In climates that are mostly tropical the courtyard typology for a house allows for the lines between indoor and outdoor to be constantly blurred and there are lessons for living in Sydney that can be adopted from these houses. My Byera Hadley research into new housing exemplars in Vietnam uncovered unique ways of living with nature, based on traditional shop house layouts and building methods.

Courtyards, voids and roof gardens bring greenery into the centre of the home and create a private sanctuary quite different to the typical suburban backyard or urban courtyard that are typical to Sydney. An article was published about this research on the The Fifth Estate.

We are currently designing a large country home for an Australian artist and her family. We named the project "Elemental House" to describe both the formal concept for the house, a series of spaces contained between singular elements and the use materials that are derived from the earth.

Views of the landscape are contained and framed, in the manner of Belynda's incredible mountain paintings. Her latest exhibition at Australian Galleries can be previewed here: Landscape Lines

From the Catalogue: Landscape Lines presents a series of recent works on canvas and works on paper which, like the hills, grasses, trees and mountains they portray, arouse in the viewer the exquisite sense of what it is to behold the beauty of the world around us, breathtaking, exhilarating and serene.

This beautiful description summarises why connection to nature is so important, both within the public realm, the spaces we share as well as a in the private spaces we retreat to.

I often sit on this park bench and marvel at the beauty of the bush as it frames the outline of the city on the horizon while the light filters gently through the trees.

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