On Sydney’s Waverton Peninsula, BP Park, formerly the home to oil barrels and industrial capacity for the BP Corporation, was transformed into an urban park in 2005. The site welcomes the public to meander through an industrial history and the underlying geology and native plant life. With impressive views of downtown Sydney across the bay, including the iconic Sydney Opera House, this park creates an entre to the water culture for the neighborhood.
The park was created after a 1997 NSW Government decision to transform former industrial sites into public open spaces. From the 1920’s through 1993, the site had been used by BP Australia for fuel storage and distribution. (Take a look at what the park location looked like before).
The purpose of the park is to bridge the divide between providing public waterfront access and reserving part of the waterfront (0.9 ha) for future maritime use to maintain working harbors in Sydney.
McGregor Coxall, the landscape architect, weaved a beautiful narrative between the past present and future, and it will be fascinating to watch this site weather over time. The 2.5 ha of public open space on the site are primarily for passive recreation for the primarily residential neighborhood with walking trails, stairways, and interpretive signage. Active pre-existing ball fields to the north link BP Park to the Waverton community.
When I traveled to Sydney in 2009, I had a chance to explore the park first-hand and see the results of the landscape architect’s plans and subtle interventions.
Signage throughout the site highlights the previous industrial history and past functionality of the site. Materials range from ultra smooth and modern to rough and rugged; from crisp, new materials like the smooth concrete slabs and airy aluminum catwalks, to old-stone and industrial remnants from the park’s previous life and the exposed sandstone geology.
Integration of the old with the new is most evident in the many staircases that help pedestrians navigate the site. Building walls were removed, forcing a mash-up of two staircases combined into one; as one, they are odd-looking and in quirky misalignment, though this imperfection is surprisingly appealing. Stumbling across new or different juxtapositions, as an aesthetic, is repeated throughout the site, in staircases that navigate bends in the path in a unique way. To the south, there is a new amphitheater-esque staircase placed with utmost authority only to accommodate for a small sandstone outcropping that juts out from the surrounding topography.
My explorations of this park took place as after-work crowds were beginning to stroll, walk dogs, and practice bocce. Given its location and size nestled into a cliff, its prime motivation is to serve the surrounding community though the signage does make it potentially worth the trip for educational groups.
BP Park brings a rich narrative to the waterfront community through the use of materials, providing access to various topographic levels, and highlighting the geologic and botanic history throughout the site.
Charly Nelson is a photographer and designer with a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. She works in San Francisco as a writer and designer and continues to explore international landscape architecture in theory, practice, and photography.