Jack Merlo sheds light on the landscape design for Hawthorn Park

Jack Merlo, one of Australia’s leading landscape architects has collaborated with RotheLowman on Dahua Group's $300m Hawthorn Park development in Hawthorn East. Jack Merlo has created the central park and a series of garden spaces to soften and complement the built form.

Merlo recently spoke to Urban Melbourne about his involvement on the project and the collaborative approach working with Dahua and Rothelowman.

Hawthorn Park is set in a verdant landscape setting designed by Jack Merlo. Image : Supplied

Urban Melbourne : What was Dahua's brief for the design of the landscaped areas?

Jack Merlo: Hawthorn Park is a diverse project on a large scale. It delivers a lot by way of amenities both privately to residents, and also to the wider community, so we were asked to provide landscaping for a range of different spaces, and each area was required to perform a different function.

We’ve got the central courtyard and park space with a primary purpose to give residents a vista. Value is added for purchasers, many of whom are downsizing from a home with a garden. Residents can use the space as a back yard, but they don’t have the burden of having to care for it.

From the brief, we wanted to encourage passive activity in the central park, as well as providing access to walk through. The design does this with a meandering path that gives a sense of flow and connectivity between Burwood Road and Camberwell Road.

Dahua wanted to use landscaping wherever possible, so we also have spaces like the Eastern courtyard that provides light, greenery and a view for residents.

The 25m lap pool on the rooftop is landscaped to utilise the sunlight. Dahua wanted to beautify the space for obvious reasons so people can enjoy it and make full use of the BBQs, sun lounges and pool area.

Our brief was also to find a balance between providing a level of privacy in communal spaces while also providing spaces for residents to enjoy with friends. We have achieved this with a design that caters for larger groups and smaller so it can be used by everyone for any occasion.

UM: How do you design for a space that is part of a private development but open to the public?

JM: The park area being open to the public was a requirement of the council for the project. It makes an interesting brief that does need to be carefully considered. We needed to make it both welcoming in terms of open presentation, and also provide vistas for residents. Because it’s a thoroughfare, we had to use materials that will withstand daily use.

Of course, we also needed to be mindful of both security and privacy, and strike a balance between all of these elements. From dawn to dusk gates are open, but they’re locked at night for security reasons.

The design for the landscape was a collaborative approach according to Merlo. Image: Supplied

UM: How much influence did the building's architecture have on the design of the landscape and vice-versa?

JM: There was a huge amount of influence between the three parties who worked on the project from inception.  Being involved at an early stage working with Rothelowman and Dahua has meant we have been able to create a design that is cohesive on all fronts.

The landscaping is over a building: the basement level car parking is underneath the entire site including the central park. Therefore we needed to ensure adequate soil volumes, especially for the significant trees in the central park.

There’s between 1-1.5m in depth of soil in the central park space, which was required to create the park area and include the trees that fitted the brief. This depth of soil wouldn’t have been possible if we were brought onto the project at a late stage, which would have made it much harder to fit the brief to create a sense of tranquillity.

UM: What were some of the inspirations for the project?

JM: As with many projects, the architecture plays a huge role in informing the landscaping. Singaporean architecture was heavily referenced in the architecture with the suspended sky-pool, and we too have drawn from Eastern influences through unstructured, asymmetrical design with fine detailing (as apposed to hard lines of European landscape design).

We have a different climate to that of South East Asia of course, so while we’ve referenced South East Asian landscaping in the design, we have used much hardier plant species.

UM: What were some of the challenges and opportunities the project provided?

JM: There were some inherent challenges with the project. One example was in creating a garden over a structure which not only brings challenges with soil volumes as I mentioned earlier, but also with weight loading on the below structure that needs to be worked through alongside both the architects and engineers.

Opportunities we capitalised on were things such as utilising landscaping wherever possible across the development: one example would of course be the rooftop where we have created a garden and courtyard space that makes the most of all the sunlight.

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