Walla Mulla Park, was generated by the construction of the Eastern suburbs railway line in the 1970s, which saw the demolition of a number of terrace houses, resulting in left over space reclaimed as a park. The site, neighbouring a homeless men’s hostel, came to be frequented by a number of homeless people – some longterm residents and other transient dwellers. Walla Mulla Park soon became notorious for all that homelessness embodies in society’s eyes – drug dealing, alcohol abuse, vandalism, dirtiness. Mostly a collection of people with tragic stories, hiding behind a façade of hostility.
While designing for the public domain always requires considerations for community safety, vandalism and maintenance, Walla Mulla Park brought a whole new palette of possible risks and hazards. The most major concern was for hiding places – both in terms of visual permeability and public safety, and also with smaller niches and crevices where drugs and utensils could be hidden. Taking into account all the possible disaster scenarios, unfortunately resulted in a dilution and stripping down of original concepts.
Today, Walla Mulla Park is a predominantly hard-scaped space, with its characteristic paving treatment a potent element in unifying the park both internally and with the streetscape. Old concrete pavers were cleaned and reused in combination with new pavers, with concrete dividing strips used to mediate changes in paving directions – somewhat like a giant patterned carpet running through the entire park. The dividing strips also assist in channelling rain water flow, in the absence of stormwater pits which were not permitted in the park.
The seats and tables, were designed in response to an observation of how people used the park and their preference of sitting in small groups scattered throughout the park. Orienting the seats around tables, catered for groups to gather around, but the width of the seats as well as their varying forms also allowed people to face in either direction, and to keep a comfortable personal space. Two small grassed areas also form a softer alternative to seating.
Planting at Walla Mulla Park has been kept to a minimum, due to visual permeability and maintenance requirements. The groupings of mature Kentia Palms are the major new planting to the park, in addition to the existing native planting of old casuarina trees. While not yet fully apparent, the trellises at the south and west boundaries as well as the toilet block roof, will with time be covered in rampant climbers. Climbers have already reached the top of the trellis, resembling a green lace.
Community reception of the park has been generally positive. While previously the general public would clearly bypass the park, many now freely traverse through or briefly use the park. The social stigma associated with the site while not absent, has been to some extent diluted. As expected, the park still remains primarily the domain of the homeless, with one woman even attempting to make a permanent abode in one of the spacious toilets on the first night. Another resident said, the only thing missing from the park was a barbecue.The seats are used for both sitting and lying, while sometimes people prefer to lie on the ground between seat and table, semi-sheltered in their personal alcoves or using seats as backrests.
Walla Mulla Park | Sydney Australia | Terragram
Location: Woolloomooloo, Sydney, Australia
Design firm: Terragram Landscape Architects, Chris Elliott Architects
Client: City of Sydney Council
Credits: Terragram (Images), Terragram (Text)