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When Frederick Olmsted designed Central Park in Manhattan in the nineteenth century it was not merely to create a green space. Rather it addressed rising concerns of the increasingly urban situation. He believed there was an inherent harmony between nature and people, and that access to nature influenced human happiness. Today the benefits of green space are even more pronounced as cities become denser with people, development and infrastructure.

DesignInc’s urban and landscape design team works closely with DesignInc’s architects to create integrated green spaces that are beneficial to individuals, the community and the environment. “We value the stimulation and enrichment that comes with engaging successfully with a place and aim to provide joyful social benefits for all users,” says Mark Stolz, DesignInc Principal.

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Above: Cardinia Health Precinct, a fully integrated health, community, aged care and affordable housing precinct planned for outer south-east Melbourne

Nature, fresh air and sunshine are critical for health and wellbeing, and gardens and natural landscape have long been linked to physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual health. In the Middle Ages, monastic gardens were a source of food and medicine, and nineteenth-century tuberculosis sanatoriums had carefully landscaped gardens to facilitate patient treatment.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, however, the rise of pharmacology saw a shift in hospital design away from open air and natural vegetation towards sterile, artificial and enclosed spaces that had little consideration of patients’ emotional and psychological needs. In recent decades, there has been recognition, once again, of the role nature can play in healing. Indeed, research shows that having a natural view reduces the stress people may feel in a healthcare environment, and access to nature, such as therapeutic gardens, is a restorative experience.

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Above: One of the Royal Adelaide Hospital’s landscaped gardens.

Landscaped gardens are consequently being incorporated into healthcare architecture, and in fact green space formed the overarching design concept of Royal Adelaide Hospital. The complex is located in a parkland, and pockets of parkland have been integrated throughout the hospital. This provides patients with access to landscaped courtyards and open green spaces, helping to reduce stress and anxiety levels and offering the opportunity for physical movement and social engagement.

This is also the case in education environments, where landscaped spaces offer children a place to run, play or simply be outdoors. Children can release energy, engage with others, develop skills, play games, flex their imagination and explore their physical environment.

The quality of these outdoor environments matter and they should cater for children of all ages and abilities. NSW Department of Education commissioned DesignInc to provide design services for Dubbo Networked Specialist Centre (NSC) for students with special needs. “A key aim of the project was to provide inclusive design, focusing on sensory play,” says Mark. This includes a variety of textural finishes and vibrant colours in the all-abilities playground comprising proprietary and bespoke play elements.

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Lindfield Learning Village

Lindfield Learning Village in northern Sydney already benefits from being nestled in bushland setting, however, green and open spaces are also integrated with the architecture to maximise indoor-outdoor relationships. The landscape design offers flexible spaces to gather, opportunities for sports and furniture that doubles as play equipment around the building and within roof top terraces. Brightly coloured geometric shapes are used for paving patterns, textured surfaces, playful furniture and bespoke play equipment. “The design is inviting, fun and appeals to different student groups as a place to learn, play and grow,” Mark says.

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Lindfield Learning Village

Of course, landscaped space also has benefits for the environment as cities become more developed. Open green spaces provide shade and reduce temperatures, helping counteract the urban heat island effect. Plants insulate against noise, filter stormwater runoff, and improve air quality, and networks of green spaces contribute to biodiversity, providing habitats for fauna.