By Daniel Kallis Hassell Principal
Natural disasters can challenge our health, environment and way of life but they can also bring us closer. Riverside Green in Brisbane, Australia is a symbol of recovery and unity in a flood-prone city.
In the subtropical river city of Brisbane (Meanjin), Australia, pandemic pressures compounded by recent severe flooding have impacted its people and the places they love. Seeking an antidote to upheaval, citizens and visitors have embraced the calm and connectedness fostered by South Bank Parkland’s Riverside Green, designed by Hassell for South Bank Corporation.
Riverside Green was born in response to a flood event in 2011 that damaged restaurants in the South Bank area where the project is now located. In early 2022, less than a year after Riverside Green’s completion, the surrounding South Bank Parklands was again engulfed by flood waters. But this time, Riverside Green emerged relatively unscathed.
“The site recovered reasonably well considering the inundation of flood water — notwithstanding the typical recovery and maintenance required for lighting, power and security,” says Julia Scodellaro, General Manager, Planning and Projects, South Bank Corporation.
“The robustness of the materials used – including loose furniture — meant that the core elements of Riverside Green withstood the flood. Similarly, the lawn and gardens proved resilient.”
Riverside Green’s porous landscape of open lawns and gardens enabled a swift recovery once flood waters had subsided. Well-made and built-to-last, a pavilion on the site, which consists of a timber deck, steel structure and copper roof — also contributed to the site’s resilience. The deceptive simplicity of the pavilion’s design, which is open on all sides, lends itself to being easily cleaned and refurbished after floods or adverse weather events.
DESIGNED FOR TOGETHERNESS
Far less predictable than the flood events affecting Brisbane was the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to Riverside Green’s physical resilience, it’s equally interesting to reflect on the role the site has played in supporting social resilience as Brisbane — like all cities — recovers from the aftermath of pandemic-induced lockdowns.
During a visit in May 2022, our Senior Researcher Camilla Siggaard Andersen, alongside a team of surveyors, observed the ways Riverside Green was being used and occupied.
During the observation period more than 50 diverse people — from mothers with newborns, to visitors, students, workers and retirees — completed a survey, which asked them to reflect on the design of the landscape and pavilion. Said one visitor:
“Thank you for the oasis in the middle of all the difficulties. A place of rest.”
“Beautifully designed. Very relaxing to come and sit, read, and have a coffee,” said another.
Locals, interstate and international tourists found an affiliation with our research on Six Qualities of Great Urban Places — seeing Riverside Green as naturally regenerative, playfully dynamic, conveniently compact, beautifully original and openly networked. Visitors especially resonated with the description of the site being “richly diverse” thanks to the availability of many different settings, from open lawns to shaded rainforest areas.
“The amplification of subtropical Brisbane, the lightness of the river breeze, the elevation of the pavilion over the promenade and the expanse of green creates the perfect backdrop for human connection,” says Julia. “In the early mornings, cyclists often meet for coffee in the pavilion with chairs turned out to the river’s edge. The barbeques are well used by families and friends gathering for catchups and celebrations.
“The main standout is the use of the pavilion by workers and students with laptops — remote working at its best.”
The deep sense of connection and community nurtured by urban retreats like Riverside Green does more than foster a state of togetherness. When our cities’ physical spaces recover quickly from a state of turmoil, it not only helps our mental healing, it strengthens our ability to collectively emerge more resilient than ever.