When you think conservatory in the park, you think more of a sombre, dark and damp building than a space filled with light, air and music. Located in an historic ten-hectare park on the southern shore of Parramatta River, Cabarita Park Conservatory by Sam Crawford Architects is inarguably defined by nature, but its ongoing function is driven by the support of the local artistic community.


The City of Canada Bay Council engaged Sam Crawford Architects in 2013 for a “concept design investigation [into a] community space and amenities” in Cabarita Park. Located just ten kilometres from Sydney CBD, the park had a long tradition of attracting both locals and more far-flung visitors, who were drawn to its natural setting and riverside aspect. What was missing from the park was a space capable of accommodating more formal and organised activities, particularly one that could flex between laid-back community gatherings to music, writing and the arts.


The result of the architectural investigation was opened in May this year. Cabarita Park Conservatory is a $1.1-million adaptive space that sits lightly within its park setting, while adhering to its own arts-driven agenda.

The design of the building is deceptively simple upon first look, but its aesthetic impartiality is exactly what makes it suitable for its multi-pronged purpose. Using a simple but robust palette of timber, steel and glass, the architects created a spacious and open pavilion-like structure that looks to be more light than material.


According to the architect, the material language of the pavilion was informed by a desire to reference the “park and community buildings local to Sydney’s waters edges”. At the same time, it needed to sit “lightly among the trees and [provide] generous gathering spaces within and adjoining the buildings”. To reinforce the natural aspect of the space, it was oriented towards a Morton Bay Fig tree, which acts as a frame to the outdoor gathering space to the west. To the east, an elevated public hall provides heightened views over to Parramatta River. A number of site-specific artworks were commissioned by the City of Canada Bay to complement the architectural and naturalistic elements of the space.