University of Sydney’s new Susan Wakil Health Building landscape interprets the ‘cycle of healing’

cycle of healing
cycle of healing

Situated on Gadigal land, Arcadia Landscape Architecture has conceptualised and delivered the landscape and public realm for the Susan Wakil Health Building on Gadigal country at the University of Sydney.

cycle of healing

Arcadia’s landscape is an interpretation of the cycle of healing, stirring the body, mind and soul to reflect the Gadigal people’s approach to healing through the engagement of all the human senses. This has been reflected in the project’s planting strategy, selecting key plant species for their underlying healing and medicinal elements, signifying the nature of the site’s current use. 

cycle of healing

The new state-of-the art facility was designed by Billard Leece Partnership and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and integrates clinical, research and teaching environments for the University of Sydney’s Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery, Central Clinical School, the  Sydney School of Health Sciences and other components of the Faculty of Medicine and Health The Susan Wakil Health Building is set to welcome medicine, nursing and allied health students, researchers and staff for the upcoming March semester.

cycle of healing

The Lower Wakil Gardens are in the foreground of the purpose-built facility as an extension of the building, creating fluid indoor and outdoor collaboration zones. 

“Indigenous connection to the land has been integrated in many ways, including Indigenous artwork and a planting strategy with the underlying theme that landscapes heal. The strategy has not tried to recreate a past landscape but rather reimagine the fundamental effects of the landscape character in a contemporary setting, to engage the senses and elicit a physiological response to place”.

Alex Longley, Founding Principal of Arcadia Landscape Architecture

Key landscape architecture features of the Susan Wakil Health Building include:

  • Reimagination of Orphans School Creek: Once a crystal-clear stream, it provided food for fishing, hunting and gathering plants for the Gadigal people however is one of the causalities of previous urban development. The native species that were once abundant in this area have been reintroduced, and a detailed paving strategy connecting two water features, Upper and Lower Wakil, acts to interpret the creek that once weaved through the site decades ago.
  • Planting strategy: By reintroducing lost vegetation communities, such as the Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest, the site enhances a sense of scenic heritage through the distinctive characteristics found in bush habitat of colour, smell and texture. This gives the site a uniquely Australian quality. Native species used include actinotus helianthi, xanthorrhoea preissi, enchylaena tomentosa and carpobrotus glaucescens.
  • The Dillybag sculpture ‘juguma’: As a gateway to the precinct, the dilly bag sits within a planted landscape that has a direct dialogue with the sculpture Judy Watson’s artwork celebrates Indigenous customs and culture through a large-scale woven metal sculpture representing the dillybag. The landscape surrounding the sculpture involves plants that are either used in weaving practices or edible plants, some medicinal, collected and stored in Indigenous vessels, whilst also complementing the sculpture’s form and framing sight lines to the artwork. There are also a number of feature Grass trees used, both to support the story of weaving and speak to the Gadigal People, whose Moety and name-sake is the Xanthorrhoea or Cadi/gulgadya tree.

The Susan Wakil Health Building was made possible by a $35 million gift from the Susan and Isaac Wakil Foundation to the University of Sydney.

Susan Wakil Health Building landscape

Design Team: 
Landscape Architect: Arcadia 
Design Team Lead: Billard Leece Partnership and Diller Scofidio + Renfro 
Builder: Umow Lai 
Structural and Civil Engineer: Bonacci Group 
Town Planning Consultants: Urbis General 
Traffic Consultants: GTA Traffic 
Building Surveyors: Phillip Chun 
Contractor: Laing O’Rourke  

Client: University of Sydney 

Photographer: Brett Boardman

About Damian Holmes 3267 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at