Sondering City Hill…. Meet me Here X

Sondering – v (sohn-derr-ing)
– Making personal connections through architectural design.

‘Meet Me Here X’ – Sonder Architects entry into the City Hill Ideas Exhibition, March 2024

The City Hill Ideas Exhibition was launched by the ACT Government as early-stage community engagement to determine aspirations for City Hill Park.

City Hill sits as an apex of Canberra’s National Triangle, the ceremonial precinct within the Mahony & Burley Griffin Canberra plan. City Hill represents the civilian heart of Canberra, a counterpoint to Parliament and Defence. While centrally located, the park has always been devoid of people and activity – it is cut off from pedestrians, does not engender a feeling of safety and fails to attract many people. In essence, it fails as the Civic Centre for the people of Canberra.

Our submission ‘Meet Me Here X’ seeks to interrupt the existing condition. We acknowledge the heritage values in the radial planning geometries and offer a strategy to retain these axes while providing a platform where contemporary life and diverse community gatherings can occur.

‘Meet Me Here X’ is conceived as a ‘Gathering Grounds’ for all people. In summary, the design asks for change to:

1. Connect the Park
Provide priority pedestrian access via a bridge from the Canberra Theatre/ City Square link. Continue the path around the theatre to City Walk and greater Civic. Indicate a pathway link to Edinburgh Avenue to promote connection to the lake.

2. New Ground Plane
Provide an accessible, easily traversed ground plane via the existing signalised pedestrian crossings at Edinburgh Ave and Constitution Ave.

Drop the existing levels to carve a terrain that undulates east-west. The hill summit is preserved and celebrated as ‘Speakers’ Peak’, a soapbox for community comment and a locus for gatherings. The main views of the hill from the north-south axis (Northbourne Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue) are preserved to maintain highly visual heritage plantings and geometric symbolism.

Define the new ground plane as an artwork that characterises the space. Mark removed tree locations to maintain heritage geometries. Consult with stakeholders to imbue meaning in the artwork via colours, materials, and graphics. Communicate the project intent via the ‘mega graphic’ text, which is ambiguous to walk across and easily identified when sharing your location on Google.

3. Embedded Garden Program
Five garden areas are suggested to provide different ways to connect with nature and different park experiences. Biodiversity of plantings and habitat is proposed, along with native trees with light-filtering canopies. These planting areas break the larger ground plane into more intimate, fine-scaled spaces. Tables, benches and seating are incorporated.

4. Retain and Contain
Low barriers protect the perimeter to provide safety adjacent to the road, especially for young children and pet dogs. Retaining walls and balustrading protect the upper areas of the park. A café or small bar and bathrooms are located within these structures to provide amenity and public space surveillance.

What sort of public space makes you feel safe? Where do you like to sit and relax awhile? Would you take a selfie if you visited ‘Meet Me Here X’? We hope that ‘X’ marks the spot and that change for the better will happen soon.

We are looking forward to seeing you there!

The Exhibition is open at Civic Library Canberra, 9-25 March 2024.


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