Public art is an important element in place making and urban planning. It can transform and enrichen a space, but there is more to public art than what meets the eye.

According to the Australian Institute of Architects Public Art Policy, public art “…can celebrate and commemorate ‘place’ and provide a contemporary response to cultural and historical contexts, acting as a means for engaging with the community.”

Often the purpose of public art is to tell a story; to convey a deeper meaning that encourages dialogue and interaction. The NewActon precinct is a good example of this, where landscape and public art are seen as inseparable, connected through a series of specially commissioned and purchased art pieces.

One of the key players to bring this vision to life was OCULUS Landscape Architects. The award-winning practice will be working with GEOCON on the Republic and Midnight mixed-use developments, where public art will blend seamlessly into the design of the buildings and outdoor spaces.

We spoke to Roger Jasprizza, Associate Director at OCULUS about the relationship between art and architecture.


Have you seen a re-emergence of public art in architecture in recent years?

Public art has always been an integral component with new buildings, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne where it is generally an authority requirement. Quite often this includes the installation of sculptural elements that are ‘plonked’ in the landscape rather than being part of the building fabric or landscape setting. More recently, art consultants are being engaged to work with the design team, which allows the art to be commissioned specifically for a site which brings a more meaningful contribution to the project.

What does it bring to the space?

Public art can take many forms. Quite often it is a sculpture, an interpretative piece or super graphic, but it can also be subtler, such as a digital installation or projection that can only be seen at night. Well-conceived public art can bring another dimension or overlay to a project and can give meaning and character that brings a richness and vibrancy to the landscape.

There are many great examples of public art around the world and the ones that stand out are those that are ‘of their place’. Art that has a subtle contribution to make to a space that work with the landscape to tell a story or give added meaning. They are not the ones that yell out ‘look at me’, which is often the case with some contemporary public artworks.

What considerations go into it decision making and planning when incorporating art?

OCULUS has a long history of working collaboratively with artists, craftspeople and designers. We firmly believe that art and craft can add real content and meaning to spaces and speak to people in their use of the space. We strongly support the incorporation of specially commissioned or purchased works of art and craft into the design of spaces rather than a haphazard or piecemeal approach that ‘decorates’ a space.  With this in mind, our approach compliments the wider design process and enables the work(s) to provide an additional layer of meaning and content that resonates with the design of the space.

When designing NewActon, what was the brief for the space?

From the beginning of conceptual development, Molonglo Group’s aspiration for the project was to develop an art program for commissions by artists, craftspeople, and design makers, which are completely integrated within both the commercial and residential buildings and their surrounding landscape setting. The project is one that has been undertaken with the work of many hands in the sense of true collaboration. Molonglo Group, Fender Katsalidis Architects and OCULUS worked closely with Pamille Berg Consulting to develop an arts strategy and program for each stage of the precinct. A series of specifically commissioned and purchased pieces have been carefully integrated into the design of the buildings and spaces between, which provide and additional layer of meaning and content that resonates with the landscape/architectural design.

Tell us about NewActon and the different types of artwork there. What artists were commissioned?

NewActon contains many artworks, from large raven sculptures, oversized figurines, building façade bas-reliefs, various lighting installations, ephemeral pieces that are woven into the landscape that will break down over time, street art to building facades and installations to the walls of lift wells that you rise within glass elevators. Each piece has been carefully considered and composed through a collaborative process. Landscape and public art are seen as inseparable at NewActon and some of the pieces include;

  • Robin Blau – Posting Notices column and Time Thief
  • Tim Kyle – Saltimbanques
  • David Jenz – vortex
  • Warren Langley – resin tree
  • Anne Ferguson/ Kevin Perkins – stone ithica and timber bench
  • Steven Siegal – paper

Other than NewActon, do you have other examples of your work where the artscape is an important feature?

We have worked on numerous projects which have public art as an integral component of the landscape. These include the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Jacksons Landing in Pyrmont, Church Street redesign in Morwell, and Monument Park with Callum Morton in Docklands in Victoria and Napier Street in Paddington and Brett Whiteley Place in North Sydney which is currently under construction. OCULUS also worked with Pamille Berg on The Village at Balgowlah in Sydney which includes a number of bespoke installations.

What is your vision for the Republic landscape? We know public art will be a feature – but do you have any ideas about the types of art that will fit best within the space?

Republic offers a tremendous opportunity to incorporate and showcase public art. It will consist of small moments as well as some bigger gestures. The town square is an obvious location for major artwork as well as smaller interventions. Other areas include the roof gardens, the retail laneways and green stairs. The aim will be to link the form and materiality of the architecture with spontaneous and layered public artworks while maintaining vibrancy within the precinct that is not overly cluttered.

Image: ‘The Time Thief Courtyard’ by Simon Patching. Courtesy of OCULUS


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