“Shellharbour Civic Centre is a world-class, environmentally sustainable and welcoming public meeting place. The Civic Centre has become the beating heart of our city.” - Marianne Saliba, Mayor of Shellharbour
A new public domain serves as a meeting place in Shellharbour city centre and connection to the new Shellharbour Civic Centre. This project is a major milestone in the masterplan vision for Shellharbour, giving the city centre an iconic heart that the community can be proud of. The public domain is a green, welcoming urban place that is soft, informal and offers a place of both activity and respite in the city centre.
A placemaking consultation process revealed core cultural aspects of Shellharbour, including a connection to the coast, water and active lifestyles. Collaboration with local Indigenous elders and artists was integral to creating a place that resonates with the community; a place with a ‘generous, fresh and flowing’ civic centre and a ‘comfortable, organic and surprising’ public domain. The public domain scheme responded to these place insights in a highly considered way. Taking inspiration from the natural characteristics of Shellharbour - shells and waves in particular - the public domain has varying layers of experience and function.
The landscape design started with an appreciation of the steep topography, and the need to establish a public domain that unites with the surrounding urban fabric and parkland.
Water Sensitive Urban Design was a key component to this project with the development connecting to undersized drainage infrastructure and located adjacent to a creek. A series of vegetated swales down steep embankments delivered improvements to the city’s stormwater infrastructure bolstering native landscape biodiversity and canopy cover simultaneously.
The civic square features a generously proportioned central green; a versatile space that is equally appropriate for active play, large community events, and small group gatherings under the shade.
Fluid forms of informal seating frame the central green, while a meandering creekline is a cooling, sensory feature that follows the built form of the civic hub and offers a distinct transition between inside and out. The creekline references the story of water in the Illawarra escarpment, and forms part of the Aquifer artwork by Artist Kim Williams.
Aquifer invites a journey through the Square. It draws people into the civic square and invites them to follow the path of the creekline towards the civic centre. The source of water from below ground cascades from a large brass dish and flows along a creek bed to a cluster of smaller raised bowls which act as waterfalls to play in and around. The artwork symbolises the emergence and disappearance of water in a dry landscape. When the community experiences times of water scarcity, the creekline can be allowed to dry and wait for rain. This prominent piece of public art becomes a point of reference for wider issues of sustainability and responsible use of water resources.
Weaving Pods by artists Uncle Steven Russell and Kristine Stewart uses woven work to create designs on concrete seating elements along the creekline. The patterns reflect the movement of Aboriginal people through the coastal landscape, the coastline as habitat and the coming together of communities.
A palette of materials that draws upon the local environment contributed to expressing this unique sense of place. Basalt stone, earthy tones in the concrete aggregate, and local hardwood timber create a robust natural palette. Along the creekline, a native mix of plants emulate local creekline landscapes using a mix of Cabbage Tree Palms, Weeping Lilly Pillies and Flame Trees in the canopy. These species have proven to be robust in the local urban environment, are low in water use and maintenance and will ensure a resilient public landscape asset long into the future.
Terracing along the streetscape provides a strong edge to the square, its fluid edge establishes a synergy between the civic centre and public domain. Experientially, it creates a dynamic spatial condition, with generous allowance for informal seating and elevated views over the square. The entire place is a playable landscape; welcoming children, youth, and adults of all cultures.
In addition to the Civic Square, a generous, level lawn space framed by native planting converts a steep and underutilised steep grass slope into a public park for active play and community events on the parkland side of the building. It provides a place to enjoy elevated views of the lake and escarpment beyond and a pedestrian link to nearby parkland. The adjacent Civic Centre will appear to float above the trees as they mature.