Resourceful planting and irrigation are helping this new civic landscape thrive in the harsh climate of Australia’s Pilbara region.
The A$207m Karratha Health Campus – Western Australia’s largest ever regional health infrastructure investment – is transforming health services for people living and working in the country’s remote north-west. HASSELL designed the public health facility, including the campus’ expansive landscape that enhances the hospital environment, provides respite for patients and their families, and extends Karratha’s green links through to the city centre.
The landscape was designed alongside hospital staff, the City of Karratha, and the traditional ‘Ngarluma’ landowners to create a civic place where the whole community feels comfortable and protected, says Natalie Busch, Principal at HASSELL.
But designing a sustainable landscape for Karratha was particularly challenging, says Busch; as the town experiences all extremes in weather and conditions. From high temperatures, humidity and at times torrential rains, to bone-dry soil, and even cyclones.
“With these impacts in mind, we designed a hospital campus that’s ‘bulletproof’ and self-sufficient in terms of essential services and maintenance. A landscape that can not only survive fluctuating conditions, but – through its strategic design – actually helps protect this vital community asset during extreme weather events.”
“One year since completion, and having endured category five Cyclone Veronica, the landscape continues to thrive,” Busch said.
Innovating to sustain plant life in a water-scarce environment
In the semi-arid Pilbara, any civic landscape lacking sufficient planting and shade is destined to fail, but water for irrigation isn’t readily available. Karratha’s groundwater is brackish, the rainfall’s unreliable – essentially the site pre-development was a baron sandpit.
To solve this problem, HASSELL developed an innovative irrigation system with LD Total and Wood & Grieve Engineers that captures condensate from the hospital’s air conditioning units and backwash from its reverse osmosis system and stores it in underground tanks for reuse. It collects up to 30kL of water each day during the hottest months – the volume of a backyard swimming pool.
This irrigation system now sustains the hospital’s public and internal landscapes, enabling the growth of restorative green spaces that create a tempering microclimate in and around the building.
The overall landscape design emerged from a precise water-availability to plant-requirements calculation, with the maximum sustainable plant life then grouped into two broad hydro-zones, including:
_Intensive zones – requiring more water, including the courtyards, tree-shaded pathways and community lawns. These areas feature a combination of native and locally-proven tree species with wide shade canopies, like the mature frangipani trees that were transplanted from the city’s former hospital site, and Tipuana Tipu
_Extensive zones – requiring minimal water and virtually no
maintenance. These areas around the hospital’s perimeter grow lower-density
native species and trees, such as‘Murlumurlu’ (Mulla Mulla) and pioneer
grasses. Ribbons of gravel weave through this sparser, textural planting – reflecting
the natural Pilbara landscape.
Using native plants and materials for inbuilt resilience
The hospital design draws out the inherent vibrancy of the land through its rich colour palette and use of local plants and materials. Durable selections have created a resilient landscape environment that can withstand tough conditions, while offering comfort.
Crushed Wickham gravel, Karratha stone paving and weathered boulders sourced from a nearby salvage yard were used, minimising transportation. Cool-to-touch aluminium furniture, corten steel edging, steel shade elements and concrete paths all require little ongoing maintenance.
Plants native to Western Australia have been selected for their salt tolerance, low water requirements and proven ability to thrive. Over 150 Eucalyptus Vitrix provide shelter – trees known as ‘Yamarrara’ by the Ngarluma people – and a carpet of wildflowers appear like an extension of the floodplain. These flowering plants with fibrous root systems, such as ‘Thurla marda-marda’ (Sturt’s Desert Pea) and Acacia species, are planted along the landscape’s overflow routes, helping to stabilise the soil.
Gabion terrace walls stacked with local granite step gently down towards the surrounding streets. They’re positioned to break down the velocity of stormwater protecting the building from flooding and torrential rain and preventing damage to the streetscape and roads.
A connected, community health campus taking cues from traditional culture
Karratha Health Campus creates a connection between the hospital and the surrounding environment – inviting interaction, promoting health and providing welcoming amenity for the entire community.
Within the building, three double-volume landscaped courtyards at the hospital’s entries provide lush oases with calming, green vistas for relaxation and respite. Externally, a series of ‘landscape moments’, shaded by trees or shelters, offer distant views to the Burrup Peninsula and Karratha Hills. These garden spaces offer patients, staff and visitors ‘a moment to escape’ and take in the landscape – which is proven to reduce stress, and improve health and clinical outcomes.
Overall, the project reflects a collaborative journey underpinned by a genuine desire to understand place as well as serve the community, says Busch.
“We consulted with local Aboriginal communities and elders who have used plants such as the ‘Mulla Mulla’ which is an important ceremonial plant for the Ngarluma people, and we’ve continued to tell these stories across the landscape and in the shelter spaces as well,” she said.
shelters en route to the hospital’s main entry feature artwork panels
explaining how the plants around the hospital are traditionally used by the
Ngarluma to treat illness. According to Wanggalili Yindjibarndi and Ngarluma
Plants, a guide published by the Juluwarlu Group Aboriginal Corporation,
‘Bibarn’ (the Green Bird Flower) is used to treat sore eyes, relieve headaches,
swelling and bruising; and the boiled leaves of the ‘Yamarrara’ (Eucalyptus tree)
are said to cure colds and treat wounds.
Upon opening, Terry Hill, CEO of the Pilbara Development Commission said “The legacy of the health campus goes beyond bricks and mortar; it’s created new opportunities for residents and attracted a new wave of families to town.”
Karratha Health Campus
Location Karratha, Western Australia, Australia
Aboriginal Nation Ngarluma
Landscape Architect HASSELL
Western Australian Government | Department of Health & WA Country Health Service
Collaborators Architecture: HASSELL
Pritchard Francis (Structural, Civil), Wood & Grieve Engineers (Mechanical, Electrical, Hydraulics, Security & ESD), Philip Chun (Compliance), LD Total (Irrigation), FORM (Public Art Consultant), Multiplex/Frogmat (Landscape Contractor)
Simon Gilby, Leanne Bray, Ian Dowling, Cliff Samson, Kyle Hughes-Odgers
Robert Frith, Douglas Mark Black