It was a scene of social degradation in the Walla Mulla and Bourke Street Parks.

Many of the locals wanted the homeless inhabitants kicked out of the area, while the homeless considered it their turf and wanted to remain in their hang-out. Both groups, however, wanted the parks to be improved.

In the 1970s, a railway line was built to connect Sydney’s CBD to the eastern suburbs. The two small ducts located under the viaduct were heavily overshadowed, but afforded a dry place for the city’s homeless. This area soon began to experience many problems, such as drug use, crime and violence. The parks deteriorated and became squalid, and the local residents were keen to see the area cleaned up.

In a brief set out by the City of Sydney Council, Chris Elliott Architects and Terragram were asked to refurbish the amenities and deliver two new parks that would score highly in physical and social sustainability.

One of the key features in the revamped Walla Mulla Park is the introduction of vertical greenery, which resolved the conflict between providing sunny open areas for gathering and relaxing, and the desire to introduce more greenery. This vertical ‘green living’ wall increased the active ecological area available in the park.

Walla Mulla Park

The choice of materials used for this project was restricted because the structures had to be exceptionally durable and vandal-proof. The brief also mandated that the structures could be recycled or re-located in the future if necessary. As a result, the products used are hardy with long life spans, and relatively easy to maintain without need for special cleaning regimes, chemicals or excessive water.

Combined with the longevity of the structures, the architects implemented other practicable and sustainable features, such as the Bourke Street Park water collection tank, which was introduced for toilet flushing.

The paving was also recycled, and the existing underground plumbing and drainage systems were reused.

Bourke St Park

Despite building environmentally sound foundations, social sustainability comes out on top for this project, as the lives of both the local residents and homeless occupants have since been greatly improved.


  • As a predominantly ‘hardscaped’ urban environment, the ground surface is characteristic to the space, with its interplay of new and recycled concrete pavers, and dividing concrete strips. The strips at times serve to mediate change of direction in paving, which help to direct rain water run off and pressure cleaning in the absence of any stormwater pits, eliminated for fear of hideout places for illicit drugs and utensils
  • Existing concrete pavers that are typical of the Woolloomooloo area at Walla Mulla Park were cleaned and recycled
  • Water collection for re-use in cistern at Bourke St Park
  • Native planting, such as Kentia palms (howea forsteriana) and flowering climbers (pandorea pandorana). The remaining Casuarina cuninghamiana trees were also used in the middle of the park
  • The structures are constructed in a way that makes it possible to re-locate them or recycle most of the components, as future urban design plans may eliminate the park
  • Community garden with storage room, potting bench and trough for the gardeners at Bourke St Park
  • Increased access of light without excessive removal of trees
  • Provision of lawns with no groundcovers or mulch
  • The landscape design minimised the chance of detergents entering planting areas in everyday use
  • The new work and old were meshed in an ambiguous way, without a clear separation line

Images: Richard Glover