By Philip Pollard
Philip Pollard’s Phd thesis, Campus as Place, on the transformation of Newcastle University into one of the world’s leading sustainability exemplars, is a rare insight into the enormous complexities – human and technological – that need to managed, nurtured and coaxed into a creative outcome.
In the last issue of The Fifth Estate, the thesis together with new observations by Mr Pollard, backed by Glenn Murcutt, one of Australia’s leading architects, formed the basis of an explosive story that claimed recent actions by the university administration had caused vast environmental damage.
Following is Chapter 1 of Campus as Place
From garbage tip to bio-diverse wetlands
The former University of Newcastle was amalgamated with the Hunter Institute of Higher Education and the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music in late 1989, a move strongly encouraged (in essence compelled) by the Federal Minister for Education at the time, John Dawkins. As I learned firsthand when I joined the newly amalgamated University of Newcastle (UoN) in September 1990, the amalgamation was welcomed by very few senior officers of either the former University or the former Hunter Institute of Higher Education (HIHE).
Following amalgamation the former Principal of the HIHE, Dr Doug Huxley, became the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Planning) in the new institution, joining former university executive members Professor Michael Carter who became DVC (Academic) and Mr Lance Hennessy who continued as DVC (Administration).
The selection panel for the new position of University Architect reflected in its composition the complexity and duplication which had arisen with the imposed new structure. The panel included both the DVC (Planning) and the DVC (Administration) as well as the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, Professor Barry Maitland and several others.
I was successful in gaining an offer for the position of University Architect, which I took up on 10th September 1990, a position which reported directly to the DVC (Planning). At that time the Buildings and Grounds Unit was headed by Mr Maurie Edmonds, who reported to the DVC (Administration), and it became apparent to me after a short time in the new role that Mr Edmonds preferred to ‘run his own race’, resisting most direction imposed by his supervisor, and ignoring virtually all requests from the DVC (Planning) and his subordinates.
Mr Edmonds also made it clear to me that he had little regard for either the architectural profession or former HIHE executives, and thus any direct input or contribution I might have had at that stage to physical outcomes on the UoN’s campuses was essentially ignored and not implemented during my first months in the position.
Apart from the commissioning of a new Master Plan (EJE 1990) for the principal (Shortland) campus of the amalgamated university, and contributing to a new master plan for the green-field site at Ourimbah, there was little work that I could get my teeth into during the early phase of the role that had any prospect of being implemented in the short term. I therefore used my time to support the master plan briefing process, and to read widely on planning related material from the university’s libraries.
I recall that one of the books that I referenced at this time which had a long lasting resonation with me, outlined the short history of the sculptural work Tilted Arc by Richard Serra (1981) which was a site specific work installed in the Federal Plaza New York, and subsequently removed and destroyed after legal proceedings. This was to have some later parallels closer to home.
Buildings and Grounds Director, Maurie Edmonds, was an electrical engineer by training, and had worked for many years at the former UoN under the direction of Dr Don Morris. Edmonds was a self declared ‘mown lawns and rose bed’ man, and did not hide his contempt for the native landscape that Don Morris had so carefully conserved.
This contempt became particularly evident after Don Morris’s retirement during the period that Edmonds headed the Buildings and Grounds Unit of the university. Don Morris had held several roles over the many years he had worked for the former UoN, commencing as Assistant Planner (to Professor Eric Parker) and later becoming University Planner – and he was the senior officer of the Buildings and Grounds Unit.
Morris was an architect who had a passion for the Australian native landscape, who joined the first planner of the Shortland campus, Professor Eric Parker, not long after the establishment of the university on the site. Don Morris was ahead of his time in perceiving the beauty and value of the indigenous bushland landscape, and he steadfastly ensured that native trees and some under-storey that had been designated for retention were not damaged by builders and contractors erecting new infrastructure.
When new buildings were proposed, trees near each building were surveyed and all that could possibly be retained were protected. As contractors at that time generally saw little value in what was just ‘bush’, Prof Parker and Don Morris instituted a penalty system in the contracts, whereby a substantial fee was imposed on builders and contractors who recklessly damaged trees marked for retention.
While this was perceived to be somewhat curious at the time, it was none the less successful in changing the widespread culture in the local industry which saw the native bush as of little or no value. Dr Morris also observed (McDonald 2008) that retaining the native bush assisted in providing a finished landscape at minimal cost – at a time when funds were extremely tight.
Don Morris retired in 1988 and his significant contribution to the University was later recognised by the UoN via his being awarded an honorary Doctorate in Architecture. (UniNews 2005) For a period of approximately two years Following Dr Morris’s retirement until my appointment, the UoN’s campuses were without the professional services of either an architect or land-use planner on staff, and by September of 1990 it was apparent at Callaghan (then known as the Shortland Campus) in particular, that the site was in a state of decline in terms of its bushland landscape.
The Newcastle earthquake of December 1989 and the consequent need to repair many buildings, with the attendant creation of numerous building sites around the campus, exacerbated this degradation process.
I had previously enjoyed some early hands-on experience of project delivery on the campus during a break from my Sydney University studies, when in 1975 I worked as a casual builders’ labourer – hand digging the footings for Kintaiba Child Care Centre.
The Kintaiba site had a scattering of mature Eucalyptus maculata trees across it, and could be described as remnant bushland. It was situated on an elevated part of the campus on the north side of Rankin Drive (later University Drive) just to the east of the main UoN entrance. I recall particularly how extraordinarily hard the compacted dry clay soils were, as well as the complex floor plan of the Centre and the well organised marking and retention of trees on the site.
Other parts of the site had a much more intensive use in the recent past. The Auchmuty Sports Centre (now subsumed as part of the Forum Sports and Aquatic Centre) was constructed in the late 1960s on a tract of land beside l No 2.
Although the sports centre site too was fairly elevated, with remnant bushland and had not been subject to fill, this was not the case with much of the surrounding lower lands. This area was largely surrounded to the east, north and west by the former Newcastle City Council municipal waste disposal dump (known locally as the Lorna Street dump).
This landfill pre-dated the creation of the state Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and enjoyed none of the environmental design provisions applied to more modern landfill design, which seeks to minimise contamination and polluted run-off. The dump was a long linear facility which grew westwards along the southern flanks of the main northern railway line from Mayfield West right through to the Hexham end of the Steelworks Golf Course – a distance of several kilometres.
A gravel road accessing the tip stretched from Lorna Street through to the northern extremity of what was then Steel Works Golf Club (SWGC).
I first learned to drive a car at about the age of twelve years along this gravel road – which was unremarkable at the time but by current standards, could be considered very risky. Similarly risky as seen through modern eyes, was the fact that the dump accepted all manner of industrial waste, which was nominally separated from domestic waste, but was not isolated from the water table by a means that could be remotely considered acceptable by current day standards.
Both the nearby Energy Australia Waratah West electrical sub-station and the adjacent Transgrid facility as well as the Warabrook Rail station and parts of the Shortland Waters (formerly Steelworks) golf course are constructed on this former land fill. Dr Morris (McDonald 2008) tells of his observation that in the area to the west of the Forum, near the boundary of the University site with the golf course, there was an upheaval of land as a result of substantial compacted landfill nearby, causing the drainage channel (or ‘creek’) from the University’s site to be raised.
According to Dr Morris, this in turn caused a build up of water on the University campus south of the Hunter Water Corporation “Chichester’ pipeline, which consequently became a much wetter area than it had previously been.
Dr Morris in his spare time (lunch times, after work and at weekends) would hack his way through the weed infested bush in the area to the north of the Engineering precinct, eventually clearing enough of the lantana to create a semi-circular walking track stretching from what is now the location of Architecture footbridge to the road east of the TUNRA bulk solids building. This track was later to be upgraded as part of the Wetlands project construction and was designated by University Council as ‘the Don Morris Walk’ .
One of the projects which I was able to get actively involved in from late 1990 onwards was this creation of the constructed wetlands in the area which had been partially flooded by the land upheaval. DVC (Administration) Lance Hennessy, a keen gardener and landscape enthusiast, acted as an informal patron to this commission, and Geoff Barcan who at the time was his executive officer, prepared a grant application under the National Estate guidelines which was successful –and which therefore saw a modest budget allocated to the project.
Expert advice was commissioned from Brian Gilligan and Geoff Winning – the latter being consulted on the technical aspects of the constructed wetlands. Winning also had useful recent practical experience gained at the nearby Shortland Wetlands, which was a constructed (or more accurately re-constructed) wetlands created in part from a former football ground. This work initially involved the use of a huge drag line machine, which was used to create a series of deep ponds at the convergence of two creeks near Scobie Heath. As funds became available, further works were undertaken to develop the wetlands in accordance with the initial consultant’s technical concepts and input from the university community.
I was involved in the UoN Wetlands project through 1991, and I had also been assigned the task of interior design and spatial layout of the interior of the new Chancellery building. For these tasks I was seconded to Lance Hennessy, the DVC (Admin). During the same period from late 1990 to early 1991 I also directly assisted Dr Doug Huxley the DVC (Planning) in the commissioning and review of the Shortland Campus Master Plan, for which EJE Architecture were engaged (EJE 1990), and the initial Master Plan for the Ourimbah campus, for which Tony Corkhill had been engaged.
The Ourimbah campus was to be a shared facility with TAFE and a not-for-profit adult education provider. Dr Huxley was a linguist by background, but he had a strong aptitude for numbers and embraced early computer models, which he applied to the task of predicting likely student loads and using these predictions to inform the new master plans. The master plans benefited considerably from this input, and the newly amalgamated university was therefore better prepared for the strong increase in undergraduate numbers that occurred during the 1990s.
The draft Shortland Campus master plan was widely circulated in the community for comment and input during the first months of 1991. The final version, with changes arising from input provided by university staff and students, was adopted by University Council in 1991(EJE 1990).
The Shortland campus master plan was the first opportunity of considering the newly amalgamated campus as one entity, and this presented a range of challenges as both the former university and the former HIHE had deliberately ‘turned their backs’ in planning terms to each other – in spite of their close proximity. Indeed Professor Carter, whose biting wit I enjoyed in spite of occasionally being on the receiving end of it, once described the former HIHE at a meeting I attended as an intrusion into (or a carbuncle on) the former university’s site – which was a colourful way of noting that the HIHE sat fairly much in the middle of the former university site.
Soon after amalgamation and before the commissioning of the master plan, a road had been extended from the entry to the HIHE’s Academic Office Block (AOB) car park to the access road to the former University’s Squash Courts, thus allowing vehicular transport between the two without the necessity of exiting onto University Drive to re-enter the other campus. This became part of the newly expanded ring road.
The adopted master plan called for the completion of the ring road by joining the entry road of the HIHE past Car Park No6, through the gulley and joining the former university ring road just south of the CT building. This plan also proposed the closure of the old ring road between the Shortland Union/Car Park 5 entrance and the CT building. It would be several years before this part of the plan was implemented, and it was ultimately undertaken at a cost of some $3.85m including the re-construction of the nearby car parks.
This completed ring road allowed the introduction to the campus of all the four bus services which had previously passed by the campus along University Drive. The former University Drive bus stop locations had meant that bus users arriving from the east had to ‘run the gauntlet’ of crossing four lanes of this busy public road, as well as having to walk some distance uphill to access the campus.
The new arrangement, which was negotiated over a protracted period with the three private service providers, Newcastle Buses (NSW Government service) and the respective drivers’ unions, eventually brought two new bus interchanges into the heart of the campus, providing closer and safer access for public transport users. Two large bus shelters were designed by Peter Stevens using historic cast-iron columns from the former Paddys Market and timber from the demolished wool stores at Throsby Creek, which provided some shelter to commuters waiting for buses.
Other major commitments adopted by University Council in embracing the Shortland campus master plan included the introduction of structured (multi-level) car parks around an expanded ring road, the related introduction of paid parking, and the preservation of substantial tracts of land as Nature Reserves. These reserves generally followed the natural water courses and included a large tract of land that the former HIHE (in its initial guise as a CAE) had designated as the College Nature Reserve.
This reserve included the creek which formed the legal boundary between the western side of the HIHE campus and the eastern side of the old university campus – a geographical feature which was often referred to as being symbolic of the separation of the former institutions.
Figure 8 ‘Feral’ cars – Prior to the ring road connection, looking eastwards across the cycleway to Design Building site. Image Stevens, P (Circa 1991)
Immediately after amalgamation when student numbers had grown quickly over a relatively short period, the car parking problem became fairly extreme. I coined the term ‘feral cars’ to refer to the haphazard occurrence of cars being parked on every surface available to them, whether grassed lawns, treed areas, roadways and virtually anywhere one could physically fit a car. These surfaces quickly degraded during wet weather to become slippery clay pans. The site resembled a muddy version of car parking in Rome – often with vehicles becoming bogged, and ‘parked in’ by several rings of other cars, and with heated disputes arising as trapped drivers became increasingly frustrated.
Although the master plan committed to the concept of paid parking, the first attempt by the DVC (Planning) and university Council to implement it failed rather spectacularly. Indeed the debate which surrounded the proposal was one of the most heated and protracted I experienced at the university.
The proposal was ultimately lost because it was confronted by an unusual alliance between a small ‘deep green’ student cohort who were essentially anti-car and therefore anti paid parking, and a larger and more reactionary ‘right to park anywhere’ staff lobby who saw the right to park for free as essentially an inalienable human right. Paid parking was not introduced for a further several years, at which time the Students Union (NUSA) took on an enlightened perspective – essentially that the university should not be in the business of subsidising drivers to the disadvantage of students & staff who walk, cycle or use public transport.
This support coincided with the introduction by the NSW Government of the ‘Restricted Parking Area’ legislation, which enabled NSW government agency enforcement of parking rules to the same standards that applied to cities generally across the state. 1 Parking demand could then be managed (as it is generally in cities across the world) by price adjustment – which in turn reflected the costs of providing parking spaces on campus.
At the same time public transport options were improved significantly, by better and timelier bus services, on-campus bus interchanges and a new rail station. The creation of Warabrook station is essentially due to the successful lobbying of the student union, NUSA, which ran a clever campaign to have the rail station created at considerable expense by the NSW Government. Early State Rail design proposals did not include disabled access to the platform or bicycle access between the campus and Warabrook, but a single complaint under the Federal Disability Discrimination (DDA) legislation saw the plans for the station altered at the eleventh hour, to allow full disabled access via lift to the platform, as well as a ramp connection which allowed bicycle access to the campus from Warabrook.
Funds raised from paid parking were accumulated and were later used to partially fund the multi-deck structured car park on the site opposite the Great Hall (the ICT building site).
The third main tenet of the 1990 Shortland Campus master plan was the designation of a range of natural areas as Nature Reserve and more generally, the use of landscaped areas to visually separate academic and other ‘precincts’, each of which was intended to develop its own character. I recall that one of the questions asked of me at my initial 1990 interview for the position of University Architect had been along the following lines: ‘given the disparate nature of the quality and architectural character of buildings on the amalgamated campus, what devices would you advocate using to create a more cohesive campus? My answer to this question, which I believe was probably the only viable option, was to use hard and soft landscape, as well as signage, street furniture and lighting to create a more cohesive whole – in which the buildings were able to retain their diverse character without a visual jarring between architecturally diverse neighbours.
This answer appeared to be what the panel was looking for, and EJE in their subsequent 1990 master plan took on a similar approach. In many instances the geographical area separating precincts was quite limited, and it was unclear at the outset whether it would be possible to provide sufficient screen planting to practically provide a sense of separation between these areas. As it eventuated, it proved possible to create useful visual screens out of landscape material, which assisted in providing a sense of identity to each precinct.
One of the unanticipated consequences of this plan was that an illusion was created that there was much more ‘bush’ on parts of the site than there actually was – and some people perceived an exaggerated distance between the precincts when travelling between them. Another unintended consequence was that several newly appointed Vice-Chancellors arriving at the campus mistakenly assumed that there were many extensive areas capable of further development as building sites – whereas in a number of cases these spaces were in practice quite restricted and not capable of development.
The Master Plan proposed the defining of distinct precincts for various academic, research, sporting, administrative and recreational areas, each separated using native landscape buffers. The concept of making the site more convenient and safer for pedestrians, and reducing the overbearing dominance of the motor vehicle was also a key strategy proposed in the Plan. Car parks close to the two primary vehicular entrances were enlarged in capacity and landscaped to reduce their visual impact, and the general public were discouraged from driving deep into the heart of the campus in a generally fruitless search of car parking.
New pedestrian routes were created, including the new pathway through the Nature Reserve connecting the Chancellery with the Shortland Union via two new pedestrian bridges. Where it was not practicable to create areas solely for pedestrian use, low speed (generally 10Km/h) shared zones were created which allowed safe shared use. A campus maximum speed limit of 40Km/h was introduced, reinforced by numerous strategically placed speed bumps which doubled as pedestrian crossings.
In late 1991 following the retirement of Maurie Edmonds, a new structure for managing the physical planning and asset management of the UoN was created, which was called Physical Planning and Estates (PPE). The position of head of PPE (Senior Architect/Planner) was advertised nationally and received over eighty applications, and following a rigorous interview process I was appointed to the new position in May 1992. With a busy capital program on the immediate horizon, I was able to recruit several key new positions to assist with the implementation of the Shortland Campus master plan and the delivery of new capital projects across campuses.
These positions included Curator of Grounds – which was filled by Peter Stevens, who had worked on the landscape design for the Chancellery as an employee of consultant architects Rodd Hay Craig; and Bushland Regeneration Officer – which was filled by Mim Woodland who went on to manage the Landscape and Ovals (L&O) area some five years later when Peter Stevens joined the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Peter Stevens had worked closely with Bill Mollison in Melbourne during the period when Mollison was assembling his concept of Permaculture. Stevens, who had undertaken the BSc (Arch) at the UoN and Environmental Management at Charles Sturt University (CSU), adapted some aspects of Permaculture and combined this with ideas borrowed from PA Yeomans’ Key Line Agriculture. To this Mim Woodland contributed her applied bushland management and horticulture experience, as well as her experience with large scale contractor Daracon, and the combined expertise and creative effort was the genesis of a new approach to catchment and bushland management techniques.
The University Wetlands project was positively received in the UoN and broader community, and attracted a number of awards at a regional level.2 What was later to become the Don Morris Walk proved to be a popular walking track for students and staff, and many people made use of the area as a quiet location to enjoy lunch or to sit and contemplate the prolific birdlife which had been attracted to the new habitat.
The area was extensively used by academic staff as a teaching resource, and for this I coined the term ‘living classroom’. Environmental science, biology, environmental engineering, architecture, wildlife illustration and other disciplines made good use of the area, and provided useful monitoring information on a regular basis, including water quality testing and biodiversity studies.
With funding provided by the Friends of the University, we were able to design and construct an attractive field studies pavilion made almost entirely of recycled materials, which served as a shelter from the extremes of weather for students using the wetlands, and as a small function structure that generated a modest revenue via facilities hire.
I was later to reflect upon this project in the light of Mel Chin’s Revival Field (1992) which involved a work on a contaminated site, Pig’s Eye Landfill, St Paul Minnesota. It appears that Chin’s work was taking place concurrently with the UoN Wetlands work, and also involved a former waste landfill. Chin observed:
Revival Field is not only about living plants. It is a process deeply rooted in a progressive association of art and hard science interacting with people in the fields of politics, law and business. It originally compelled the areas in supposed opposition (art vs. Science, polluters vs. environmental regulators) to share through action the production of knowledge. This knowledge has made green remediation an accepted technology. Revival Field is not done. ‘(Chin, cited by Nemitz 2000, p. 41)
Chin’s work was twofold – on one hand it existed as an art work, on the other it functioned as a small piece of applied scientific research, assessing the capacity of plant material to absorb and remove heavy metal contamination from the soil. The work also parallels the Wetlands project in that it was a collaboration involving participants from very diverse backgrounds and with very different approaches – from hard science to sculpture.
Like the UoN Wetlands project, Lorna Jordan’s later work, Waterworks Gardens (1996) took a battered ecosystem and both restored it functionally and created a useful and pleasant landscape. In this instance the gardens were located next to a vast wastewater treatment facility in Renton Washington USA, and the function of the gardens is to purify oil-laced and silt bearing storm water run-off, collected from 50 acres of roads and car parks. Again the work came about via a collaboration – this one between Seattle landscape architects Jones and Jones, Lorna Jordan and consulting engineers Brown and Caldwell. Both the function of the Waterworks Gardens project and the processes which created it, parallel the UoN Wetlands project.
Regular water quality tests were conducted at the UoN Wetlands over a period of several years. Testing was undertaken by students (under academic supervision) as part of their studies, and spanned the periods prior to and following the undertaking of the project. These revealed a significant and ongoing improvement of the water quality in the creeks and ponds, which once completed, consistently achieved recreational quality or better.
The majority of the runoff from campus roads and car parks, as well the majority of roof water from campus buildings flowed into the three creek systems that feed into the Wetlands. As was the case with the Washington project, oil from vehicles and sediment were major polluters prior to the remedial works. Stormwater headwalls delivered significant volumes of high velocity stormwater that tended to severely scour and erode the creek banks, and during periods of heavy rain, the three creeks that flow into the wetlands became highly turbid with sediment.
Over time remedial work was continued upstream of the Wetlands, using the techniques developed on site by Woodlands, Stevens and Pollard. These combined techniques I named ‘Landsoft’ drawing on the primary components – ‘soft’ landscaping materials (plants, soil, loose rocks, earth shaping), and the land itself. This technique differed quite markedly from the traditional ‘engineered’ approach of underground pipes, headwalls and consequently scoured waterways – which ultimately then have to be concreted because of severe erosion and sedimentation.
The management of stormwater generally on the Callaghan Campus presented a range of ongoing challenges which were ultimately met in new ways. Many of the older buildings had been constructed with ‘box’ gutters which readily became clogged with leaf litter and tree branches, causing considerable damage to the interiors of buildings when these overflowed – which they did all too frequently.
Similarly, downpipes and underground storm water drains regularly and repeatedly became blocked with vegetation – even when regular maintenance programs removed leaf litter from roofs and gutters. Severe storm events saw massive quantities of leaf material stripped instantly from trees, at the same time as heavy rain, or occasionally hail – too often resulting in severe damage, disruption and expense.
Means of dealing with these challenges were developed and implemented, and the provisions became a part of the briefing process for both new buildings and for major refurbishment projects. This is discussed in further detail in Chapter 9.
The widely perceived success of the UoN Wetlands project was instrumental in boosting my capacity to convince DVC Lance Hennessy that the upcoming capital project for the School of Art and Design would be a good vehicle for the UoN to extend its acquisition process to include design excellence and environmental considerations.
The former university had in its early days on the site secured some excellent buildings, including the Staff House (Ancher Mortlock Murray and Woolley) for which Glenn Murcutt was the project architect, the Shortland Union (Ancher Mortlock Murray and Woolley) and the Great Hall (Ancher Mortlock Murray and Woolley). The former CAE’s main building, the Hunter Building (NSW Government Architect) had also been well received by the architectural profession and was awarded a state RAIA recognition. It was however, not generally well regarded by the general community, nor did it age well as its extensively used pre-cast concrete weathered.
The Staff House was in my opinion undoubtedly the most successful of these projects. It remained reasonably intact until 2007, apart from repairs following the 1989 earthquake which used poorly matched face bricks in patching the building’s northern wall, and the installation of a very unattractive suspended air conditioning duct around 1990. Extensive alterations to the building were undertaken by the UoN in 2007, which are discussed further in Appendix 2.
A year or two prior to the university preparing to deliver its Art and Design buildings, it had entered into an agreement for a long term lease of land (50+50 years) of a section of the campus to the research arm of the state-owned electricity infrastructure company, Pacific Power, for the construction of their new applied research centre. The design for project, which became known as the Pacific Power Advanced Technology Centre, was the subject of a limited design competition conducted by Pacific Power in consultation with the UoN.
Being the flagship research building for a major energy company, the project brief called for innovation in energy efficiencies in the building’s design. The competition was won by Jackson Teece Chesterman Willis (JTCW) and represented a landmark in its day in applied sustainable design (ESD). The success of this design competition process also provided some further confidence to the UoN executive in my proposal for a limited design competition for the Art and Design project, responding to a design brief that supported environmentally sustainable considerations.
1 Previously staff and students with knowledge of the law were confident in ignoring UoN raised penalties, but this changed with the adaptation of the new Restricted Parking areas.
2 Lower Hunter Civic Design Awards: Alfred Sharp Award 1997 – for excellence in the design of a development incorporating urban design and landscape
Newcastle City Council Environmental Achievement Awards: Winner – Public /Private Enterprise
Site Enhancement Category- 1997 Landscape treatment and innovative water catchment management system