Landscape architecture firm Aspect Studios are doing it for the community, balancing commercial work with pro bono to impressive effect.
July 22nd, 2011
The portfolio of Sydney, Melbourne and Shanghai-based landscape architects Aspect Studios encompasses an array of public realm projects for the community to interact with – from Pirrama Park and the Bondi to Bronte walk in Sydney, to the Spirit of Barak Trail in Victoria.
They’re currently in the process of transforming the Darling Quarter, on the foreshore of Sydney’s Darling Harbour, into the biggest children’s playground in the City of Sydney – a $15 million project set to reinvigorate the area and engage the millions of people who pass through each year.
The most impressive aspect of the studio’s portfolio, however, is their pro bono work – between 1 and 2 projects per year undertaken at no cost, created in collaboration with likeminded people wanting to positively impact the community.
“I’m particularly interested in people and the betterment of society in everything we do,” says Sacha Coles, National Studios Director of Aspect.
“Yes we run a business and we have to do some commercial projects, but the spirit of the office is really about public work and the betterment of humanity. It sounds a bit lofty, but it’s true. Pro bono work, wherever we can fit it in, is part of the agenda of the office.”
This has included local work – the Wugularr School (above) in Katherine, NT, for the Fred Hollows Foundation – and international work, including a school in Malawi for children orphaned through HIV.
In collaboration with Sam Crawford Architects and FOCHTA, this ongoing project is aimed at providing children in one of Africa’s poorest countries with the chance to elevate themselves out of poverty through education.
Some of the smallest projects have had the largest impact, such as Redfern’s James Street Community Garden, which received a grant from the City of Sydney. A disused lot was transformed into a vibrant community garden – and the public response has been huge, the garden attracting all manner of Redfern locals.
“It’s tiny, gut it’s really grabbed people’s attentions,” says Coles, himself a Redfern resident.
As well as the social benefits, Aspect’s pro bono work lets the studio explore and be creative. Devising a new landscape concept for Pretty Beach Public School, the studio incorporated materials into the design they mightn’t otherwise get the chance to use – such as tree trunks and recycled sandstone.
“We have a contemporary design aesthetic in that we use a lot of concrete and have a strong formal approach to what we do,” Coles explains.
“[Pretty Beach] is not that. It’s very hands-on, with recycled materials and bricks and tactile experiences.”
Ultimately, Aspect Studios’ community work is about sharing knowledge and resources.
“Landscape architecture as a profession, and the skill set we’ve got, is not necessarily very well articulated,” says Coles.
“The public domain and the upgrade of public space is the strongest thing we can offer.
“I wish more people, big businesses and even small businesses had the same attitude.
“It isn’t actually that detrimental to your bottom line, if you want to look at it in the business sense. And who knows what relationships come of it? There’s the personal dimension, and there’s the professional dimension. You meet likeminded people, and you never know where that’s going to go. That’s the spirit of it.”
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