Landscape Architecture

Posted January 15, 2020
  • A recent bushfire in Queensland, Australia

  • Students in Weller's studio were asked to redesign Sydney's Centennial Park as a kind of animal sactuary.

  • The list of clients that students were asked to design for

  • Work by UNSW student Louis Parson-O'Malley

  • Work by UNSW student Jinyu Wan

  • Work by UNSW student Caleb Wright

  • Work by UNSW student Claire Sun

Richard Weller’s Hotspot Cities Project Takes on New Urgency in Sydney

It was just six months ago that the Weitzman School’s Richard Weller brought together urban planners, conservationists, policy makers, and representatives of major cities for a symposium to examine the imminent threats to biodiversity around the world from urbanization. “Life on earth is dying,” Weller said at the time. He referred participants to a vast new set of data visualizations that he co-authored for The McHarg Center which show that habitats in eastern and southwestern Australia are at risk.

The threat became starker this month as the country has battled historic bushfires. Weller was in Australia to lead a two-week studio at the University of New South Wales (UNSW Sydney), so he asked students to take one of Sydney’s major parklands and convert it into an incubator for wildlife.

“This is not about making another zoo,” insists Weller, who is professor and chair of landscape architecture, Meyerson Chair of Urbanism, and co-executive director of The McHarg Center. “I’m not asking students to design enclosures for animal incarceration and human pleasure. This is about incubating biodiversity, it’s a scientific and educational exercise to create a new relationship between citizens and wildlife.” 

The studio attracted students of architecture, planning, landscape architecture and interior design. They were asked to design research and veterinary labs in restored patches of habitat in Sydney’s Centennial Park for a specific set of endangered species.

Weller calls the loss of biodiversity in Australia “alarming, in the best of times” and researchers at Sydney University have estimated that as many as one billion animals have been lost since the fires broke out. Communities across the nation are donating time, money and food to support the animals that were in the path of the fires and survived.

The Park’s selection as the studio site was strategic. Weller argues that Australian cities have large underutilized public spaces that shouldn’t be dedicated to single activities like golf or dominated by domesticated animals like dogs. He says, “It’s time to convert some of these spaces into biodiversity nurseries for plants and incubators for animals to then branch out and repopulate the landscapes of eastern Australia that have been devastated by the fires.”

“The Sydney Urban Lab, a two-week intensive, brings into focus some of our critical urban challenges,” says Professor Helen Lochhead, Dean of the School of the Built Environment at UNSW. “This year, with the combined threats of our rapidly expanding urban footprint and bushfires raging in the hinterland, Richard Weller’s studio focus on biodiversity loss could not be more timely.”

Weller was joined by representatives from the design firm Hassell in leading the studio. Studio instructors included Beth George, Jason Cuffe, Georgia Darling, and Chris Kelly.