Often considered Australia’s ‘sleepy city,’ Adelaide may currently be an underdog on Australia’s architecture scene but it shows great potential for a bright future.

Adelaide’s CBD is tiny in comparison to other Australian capital cities and its architecture is no exception. Westpac House, the tallest building in Adelaide is a mere 132 metres. There are well over 100 taller buildings across the country.

Despite the lack of a bustling tourist area or a CBD bursting with residential and commercial skyscrapers, Adelaide’s landscape architecture has a lot going for it and people are starting to take notice.

Call it boring or call it strategic, but Adelaide’s streetscape is based upon a grid layout which is extremely easy to navigate. The city centre is bordered by a ring of parkland and north, east, south and west terraces enclosing the CBD.

The first place in Australia to be developed for free settlers as opposed to penal settlements or military outposts, Adelaide’s urban design is considered masterful. The city was planned and founded by surveyor Colonel William Light in only eight weeks. His 1837 vision of a city surrounded by parklands with the River Torrents separating the two major city centres remains intact to this day.

The urban parklands surrounding the city are a major benefit to visitors and residents. Few cities have such a vast area of green space so close to the city centre. The area was included in the National Heritage List in 2008.

Stephen Yarwood

Adelaide’s Lord mayor Stephen Yarwood

The city’s landscape architecture is important to South Australia’s identity. The parklands characterize the city and its landscape has contributed to the Garden City planning movement, a popular historic planning initiative copied by other towns both in Australia and abroad.

The city and parklands are comprised of 900 hectares total, including Hindmarsh Square, the Botanic Gardens, Victoria Square and Palmer Gardens.

The landscape speaks volumes for the city, but the architecture has always been seen as taking a back seat to that in the nation’s larger cities. Though largely quiet on the international architectural stage, Adelaide is actually the birthplace of some of Australia’s leading architectural firms including Woods Bagot, Woodhead and HASSELL.

Young talent emerging from the state’s universities and these international firms are helping to redevelop the sleepy city and give it a new image.

Adelaide Mayor Stephen Yarwood is passionate about urban planning and has big dreams for the city, which is currently working to repopulate the city centre.

Several trendy bars and restaurants are opening in the city and a new grid of bicycle lanes will ensure easy travel. Proposals for new developments are now verified by government architect Ben Hewett, who ensures only the best architecture for Adelaide’s future.

The North Terrace Project by landscape architecture firm Taylor Cullity Lethlean (TCL) recently took home top honours for Stages 2 and 3 of the project to redevelop the area.

Adelaide at night

Adelaide cityscape at night

“The North Terrace Master Plan by TCL has achieved a truly positive transformation,” said the jury of the changes that took place over the course of more than a decade.

TCL was commended for its elegant revision to the city’s cultural boulevard, showing the potential for urban landscape design projects to positively change the face of a city.

The city’s Riverbank precinct is also undergoing a huge re-development. Premier Jay Weatherill is confident that the resulting precinct “will be better than anything other major Australian cities have to offer,” offering Sydney’s Darling Harbour and Melbourne’s Docklands as comparisons.

The new Royal Adelaide Hospital, set to open in 2016, will add to the city’s modern architecture and is expected to be one of Australia’s best hospitals. A competition seeking a design to best redevelop the old hospital site is also in progress.

No longer content with being labelled Australia’s dormant city, Adelaide’s future looks bright, with the right people in charge with consistent visions for positive change. The re-shaping of Adelaide’s built environment will take time but they say good things come to those who wait.

The only Australian city to be encapsulated by park lands, the built environment is about to give the landscape of the city a run for its money. Yarwood’s vision for the city in 2023 is one of an eclectic mix of people in a bustling and thriving city centre to rival any other Australian capital.

“We’re going to go in a different direction to other Australian cities,” he said. “Placemaking is the engine for the quirky, the interesting, the cultural.”

The mayor says Adelaide will be much more colourful than other Australian cities.

“Backpackers will say Adelaide was truly unique, just as a Portland or an Austin has gone down a path that makes them colourful and unique,” he said. “We won’t have an inferiority complex.”