There are times when we look forward to long drives, as we leave behind the daily rat race and embrace the longer, slower days ahead – drives that take us through bushland forests, pastoral landscapes, monumental rock cuttings and across rivers and waterways.
Many of these road infrastructure corridors that provide us with the means of departure from our great cities, that allow us to engage with nature, from the macro to micro scale, have been shaped by landscape architects.
Consider the work of the late Peter Spooner in the early 1970s, and his ability to achieve ‘utility and beauty’ in the design of the Sydney-Newcastle expressway. The drive north out of Sydney takes the driver out of the Cumberland Plain along the M1 before it weaves and dips, exposing the ancient sandstone formations and surrounding landforms and providing vistas of Ku-ring-gai Chase and Marramarra National Parks.
A more contemporary example of experience-focused road infrastructure, and no less arresting, is the Craigieburn Bypass that circumnavigates the western part of Melbourne’s CBD, port and inner west suburbs, as the surrounding city views are framed by magnificent sculptures that capture the pace and vistas only able to be experienced through vehicular travel. Also in Melbourne, the highly collaborative design and planning of the 44 kilometres of road on the Calder Freeway from Kyneton to Ravenswood in Melbourne addresses not only key urban design issues, but also how best to conserve native habitat and various significant heritage landscapes and features.
Landscape architects play a critical role in the planning and design of road infrastructure that connects people to places. These designed roadway corridors not only guide us from A to B but can assist us in understanding and knowing our local landscapes. Be this through the considered and meaningful exposure of sedimentary rock to connect journey and landscape, the targeted provision of views and vistas to punctuate the driver's experience or the timed positioning of lookouts and rest areas to offer respite, the well-designed infrastructure connects us to the environment and the land through which we traverse.
A journey brings us not only to the destination but also to the special moments along the way. The visionary work of the National Tourist Routes office in Norway showcases a series of examples where journey and destination align, and where landscape and place have influenced not only the designed outcome, but the human experience. It is a testament to the possibilities of knowing and experiencing regional landscapes through the implementation of quality designed, small scale, connected interventions within the landscapes. It is the landscape architect’s ability to blur the lines between civil and structural infrastructure and the environment and natural landscapes, to elevate the engineering outcome from asset to experience.
Many of the destinations that we seek out and arrive at via these great roadways are national parks. National parks represent another realm of public infrastructure where landscape architects are helping to reconnect us with the natural environment, a growing demand being pushed by increased tourism from international visitors and an ageing Australian population, which has seen the rise of ‘grey-nomads’. This phrase is commonly used to define Baby Boomers and older Australians, usually retired, with caravan in tow, who are now exploring Australia’s remote national parks and regions for lengthy periods of time.
The leading work recently completed for the Department of Parks and Wildlife in Western Australia is one such example. A small team of landscape architects and architectural draftsmen worked with local construction teams from regional and remote areas to design and construct unique and site-specific pieces of infrastructure. These are key pieces of work that enable visitors to utilise a variety of recreational experiences while exploring the diverse landscapes within the state’s national parks. The Gap-Natural Bridge project in Torndirrup National Park on the outskirts of Albany, creates a profound experience for visitors who are cantilevered out over the granite rock formation and surging Southern Ocean below.
Likewise, the AILA award-winning project, Mackenzie Falls Gorge Trail within the Grampians National Park offers a unique connection with nature and the environment through the construction of new trails through the river valley that touch the ground lightly, delivering a site-specific response for visitors. Further, The Shipwreck Coast Master Plan for Parks Victoria along the Great Ocean Road to the Twelve Apostles is a highly-anticipated project for international visitors and residents of south-western regional Victoria. Once complete, it will significantly improve the visitor experience and the conservation of natural and cultural assets along this part of the Victorian coastline.
These experiences provided through well-considered and sympathetically designed infrastructure all remind me of the words of John Brinckerhoff Jackson, American cultural geographer and landscape designer, who said: "the design of landscape is the act of delaying time."
The growing scope of landscape architectural work within Australia’s regional and remote areas supports an increasing number of people ‘delaying time’ – to visit and experience these landscapes more intimately and mindfully. These design interventions are critical in supporting human connections to Australia’s wider landscape – by enabling people to immerse themselves, to slow down and to begin to really know the natural environment and experience the places beyond where they live.