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Sydney Olympic Park

Peter Walker & Partners


Sydney, Australia 

Awards: 2001 The United Nations Environment Program’s Global | 500 Award for Environmental Excellence | 2000 Gold Banksia Award | 2000 Banksia Award - Conservation of Flora and Fauna | 2000 Rivercare 2000 Gold Award | 2005 Energy Australia-National Trust Heritage Award – saltmarsh conservation | 2006 Energy Australia National Trust Heritage Awards – landscape conservation, Brickpit Ringwalk.


This ground-breaking project involved the significant improvement of the onsite soils, seeking out organic wastes and recycled crushed sandstone from across Sydney to develop suitable soils for the landscapes.


In addition, SESL implemented the concept of structural soils which were installed in tree pits to enable to establishment of mature trees in highly trafficked areas without causing compaction of tree roots.

There's a great story that comes with our work at Sydney Olympic Park. It all starts with...

Aerial of Sydney Olympic Park at Dusk NW 3-1_edited.jpg

Old Sydney Abattoirs 1927



Where it began

In 1999, Tony McCormick of Hassell asked landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie and our office to join the team bidding for the Millenium Park Concept Design and take the ensign lead on what was to become the Sydney Olympic Park. This collaborative effort resulted in the brilliant "Rooms with Walls" concept. One of the major briefs for the team was to unify the site.


Time was short & when we visited & reviewed the site, my heart fell. It was a desolate, industrial wasteland that had been over time an abattoir, a munitions yard through two wars, disused brickpits, and since ww11, a series of chemical plants had been dumping their waste there. Large sections of the area could not sustain plant and animal life and the wasted soil was black and slimy. 

With all the commotion on site from estuarine restorations, archery grounds, stormwater treatment ponds (not to mention full on Olympic games facilities), the great philosopher of landscape design, Peter Walker decided that the “room with walls” concept was both impossible and unnecessary. Accordingly he made a simple change of name to "Millennium Parklands", creating a whole different expectation of "park", one of difference and journey through landscape. This change, combined with the "Rooms with Walls" concept, unified the site.


Designing the park

With the concept in place, SESL began to design different soils and vegetation edaphologies for each "room" of the park. This was the first time SESL used crushed excavation rock and compost to make functional soils. Large quantities of waste clay soil were on site but because they were heavy, poorly drained and sodic they gave poor results in initial landscape work so alternatives had to be found.

Huge amounts of topsoil were needed so Simon went searching for waste destined for landfill that could be rediverted to make topsoil to cover the clay materials. He used crushed sandstone from other projects to design a copy of a podzolic soil that originally occurred on site, saving millions in costs.


The Woo-la-ra waste reburial mound was a major success in the project, using 100% waste: from the entombed landfill and capping layer, right up to the topsoil made from waste crushed rock and composted green waste blended with compost and gypsum they formed soils that were cost effective and successful in rehabilitating the site.



Ecological outcomes

 Step by step, we fashioned a design that dealt with the formidable problems scattered throughout the site. The park supports a natural environment that includes over 250 native animal species, over 400 native plant species and three endangered ecological communities. The incredibly high conservation significance remained a focus point in the design and rehabilitation of the park. The rugged terrain was reshaped into a series of hills, both symbolically geometric & naturalistic.


The reconstruction of Haslams Creek, and a park made up of major reforested tree walls, hills & open meadows replanted with native grasses. Now more than 20 years later, the tree saplings have matured and thrived, many quickly surpassing the size of the mature trees planted for the Olympics.

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