Michael Bleby Reporter

Michael writes on emerging markets, architecture and engineering. He has served as a correspondent in Tokyo, London and Johannesburg and has written for Reuters, the Financial Times, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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University spending up, government down: World’s landscape architect of the year

Published 07 October 2013 12:02, Updated 26 November 2013 18:35

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University spending up, government down: World’s landscape architect of the year

A path in the Australia Garden designed by Taylor Cullity Lethlean. Photo: John Gollings

The Australian winner of the world’s highest award for landscape architecture says more work from institutions like universities is offsetting a decline in government work that started with the previous Labor administration and shows no sign of reversing under the new Coalition government.

Adelaide- and Melbourne-based Taylor Cullity Lethlean on Friday won the World Architecture Festival’s Landscape of the Year Award for its Australian Garden, a 15-hectare site in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne, south-east of Melbourne, which showcases 170,000 plants on the site of a former sand quarry.

While winning the award was good for business and would likely mean more invitations to tender on international projects, business from universities has grown to up to half of TCL’s work from as little as 15 per cent three or four years ago, filling the hole left by governments for landscape architecture, TCL director Perry Lethlean says.

We’re still uncertain about what the future holds with the new government.

“We’ve probably had less public realm work for the past three or four years than we have had previously,” Lethlean told BRW from Singapore over the weekend. “We’re still uncertain about what the future holds with the new government. It’s not clear there’s going to be a significant shift. What we’ve observed is that a lot of our clients are now institutional work like universities.”

The interest from universities, Lethlean says, comes out of an effort to improve the public space for students and staff.

“Part of it is a level of competition, to attract business, keeping with the promise of an active and dynamic campus life and reflecting that in the physical outcomes on campus,” he says.

Design reflects purpose

In a reflection of similar trends in workplaces, the design of an educational facility is also linked to the purpose of the organisation, and this can be seen in some of RMIT University’s inner-city designs, Lethlean says.

“The physical expression of buildings in RMIT is certainly reflecting that they’re a design institution,” he says. “It’s a really important brand for that university.”

The WAF win for TCL was a “wonderful tribute” to co-founder Kevin Taylor, who died in a car crash in 2011, said Lethlean, who heads the firm with Kate Cullity, Scott Adams and Damian Schultz.

“He really curated the overall philosophy of the design approach for that garden,” he said.

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