Case Studies

Darling Quarter

Winner, 2012 Australia Award for Urban Design

Project Proposer, Project Manager and Construction Contractor: Lend Lease

Urban Designers: Lend Lease/fjmt/ASPECT Studios

Architect: fjmt

Project Websites:

Project Description:

The Darling Quarter precinct is a major 1.5 hectare place making project that has transformed the public domain of Darling Harbour, one of Australia’s most visited destinations. The new $500 million mixed use precinct integrates Commonwealth Bank Place, two large campus-styled 6 Star Green Star (world leadership) commercial buildings. The public domain includes new city pedestrian connections, a 3,000 square metre retail terrace with new cafes, restaurants and bars, generous grassed community areas, a 300 seat children’s theatre and an innovative playground as its centre piece. The spectacular world-class 4,000 square metre playground is one of the largest illuminated playgrounds in the country and a regional attractor to the city. The playground is also one of Australia’s largest play areas to integrate interactive water play in an urban landscaped environment.

This project prompted a shift in thinking about the importance of the public domain in the re-vitalisation of the western edge of the Sydney CBD. Darling Quarter has set a new benchmark for Sydney’s public domain and commercial architecture. Significant effort has been given to the integration of this new project into the existing precinct so it reads as an enlargement of the existing public domain. Darling Quarter exemplifies design excellence and leading sustainable design initiatives to create an inclusive, free, public space activated by the community day and night.


Commercial, Public Open Spaces, Mixed Use, Retail, Community, Recreation

Transport Options:

Principle: Enhancing

The Darling Quarter project has revitalised the former Sega World site at Darling Harbour with a focus on place making, good design and community activation. Lend Lease have brought stakeholders and community together to generate a shared vision of place that recognises the Darling Harbour precinct’s importance as a major family and tourist destination. The precinct is now activated seven days a week, night and day.

The following place making initiatives have enhanced the site:

  • Playground – the largest inner city playground in Sydney with challenging play equipment for all ages, including interactive water play facilities set within a landscaped environment.
  • Retail Terrace – a mix of bars, restaurants, cafes and convenience stores to cater for families and workers.
  • Children’s Theatre – the first dedicated theatre for children.
  • Community Green – an open turfed area for people to picnic and relax with programmed initiatives.
  • Illuminated Façade – the entire western façade of the buildings becomes an interactive digital canvas with low energy lights and solar power.
  • Feature Lighting – throughout the Darling Quarter, feature lighting creates a vibrant night time precinct, dining experience and the first illuminated playground with low energy lighting.

Principle: Connected

The Darling Quarter project revitalises and reconnects the former Sega World site, which was an underperforming entertainment and retail venue that was isolated from the CBD and the harbour foreshore. The development mediates the scale and intensity of the CBD with the open promenades and parklands of Darling Harbour and ‘knits’ these two precincts together.

Darling Quarter provides a new east-west pedestrian street, which connects Darling Harbour South to the City, and a north-south pedestrian boulevard, which runs along the building’s western edge and features al fresco dining spaces, retail tenancies, a children’s theatre, grassed areas and a state-of-the-art playground. This north-south connection renews and reinforces the pedestrian spine that starts at the Entertainment Centre on the southern edge and continues through the Cockle Bay promenade and beyond. The development included underground public parking and upgrades to roads and pedestrian crossings to allow clear sight lines, making the ground plane safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Generated by the geometries of Tumbalong Park, Harbour & Day Streets, the design creates a two-part ensemble of stepped campus-style commercial buildings atop a base of retail activities that enliven the ground plane. The stepped form of the City is continued in the building forms of the city-scale buildings fronting Harbour Street and lower scale forms fronting Tumbalong Park. The roofs create an elegant transition from the upper to lower forms, providing the development with a unique profile and marking the importance of the central atria within the development.

Principle: Diverse

Darling Quarter is a mixed-use precinct that integrates a vibrant public domain with a commercial development. There are various attractions for families at the site including retail facilities, the children’s theatre, the playground and the community green. The campus-like environment at Commonwealth Bank Place and the community green are popular with nearby workers.

Principle: Enduring

Darling Quarter is setting the benchmark for green precincts. Environmental initiatives have been setup on the site to ensure that it is sustainable in the long term. Commonwealth Bank Place, a low rise campus-style commercial development on the site has been awarded world leadership status by the Green Building Council of Australia. It includes the first buildings to achieve 6 Star Green Star – Office As Built v3 rating in Australia. The buildings have been certified 6 Star Green Star – Office Design v2 and are targeting a minimum of 5 Star Green Star – Office Interiors v1.1. 6 Star Green Star ratings recognise world class innovation. The buildings and their fit-outs are capable of achieving a 72 percent reduction in carbon emissions in operation when compared to the average performance of typical existing office buildings in Australia.

The project also included the development of the Darling Quarter Recycled Water Plant which treats 245 kilolitres of wastewater a day to produce high quality recycled water for use in the precinct. In addition, the precinct features low energy public domain lighting with dimming switches.

The Darling Quarter development addresses social and cultural issues through place making initiatives to ensure long-term social sustainability. These include:

  • One of the largest illuminated playgrounds in the country and a regional attractor to the city.
  • The first theatre dedicated to performances for children in Australia.
  • A community green.
  • A busting retail terrace.
  • An interactive digital media façade: one of the world’s largest interactive digital media canvases.
  • Interpretive text in the Civic Connector paving.

Principle: Comfortable

Darling Quarter provides a comfortable and interesting environment for a diverse range of visitors to the site. Natural materials, bench seating and shade provided by native trees and plants create a relaxed atmosphere appropriate for the Australian climate. The precinct attracts visitors at all times of the day and night, helping to make it a comfortable environment for all at any time of the day or night. Low energy public domain lighting with dimming switches is provided throughout the site to maximise both safety and energy efficiency.

The playground incorporates natural materials, its low walls and edges become seats for parent surveillance and its stairs and planted areas are designed to encourage social interaction. The playground is well illuminated at night, providing a safe place for children to play after dark.

Principle: Vibrant

Darling Quarter is an example of successful urban renewal and place making. It has been visited by millions of families and tourists since opening in September 2011.

Darling Quarter’s playground is one of the largest free family entertainment attractors in Sydney. It has been an unrivalled success, full of children day and night. It features challenging play equipment for babies through to teens. A quarter of the playground is dedicated to bespoke interactive water play facilities set within a landscaped environment. The playground is the first illuminated play area in Australia with feature lighting to create a magical night-time ambience. This enables children to use it after dark, in contrast to the normal practice of darkened playgrounds that discourage night use.

The precinct is also home to the first dedicated theatre for children in Australia. It draws families from all over Sydney.

Darling Quarter’s community green provides an open area for people to picnic and relax and features oversized rugs, deck chairs, table tennis tables and free WIFI and board games. Throughout the day, families can be seen picnicking and participating in community programs here. At lunch time, it is a popular hotspot for office workers.

The high use of the precinct’s public domain also draws customers to the nearby shops, cafes and bars. The precinct’s retail terrace is always bustling.

Feature lighting throughout the precinct helps to create a vibrant night-time precinct. The entire western façade of the buildings on the site becomes a 160m long interactive digital canvas with low energy lights and offset by solar power. The public can interact with the facade by altering light sequences from interactive screens located in the public domain.

Principle: Safe

The precinct is in use 24 hours a day, helping to make it an inviting place to visit at any time of the day or night. Safety at night-time is maximised through low energy public domain and building lighting with dimming switches, which also maximise energy efficiency. The precinct’s playground is well illuminated at night, providing a safe place for children to play after dark. Changes to roads, parking and pedestrian walkways at the site have improved the safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Principle: Walkable

The redevelopment has greatly improved the walkability of the precinct. Wide on grade pedestrian routes through the precinct provide connections from Darling Harbour to the CBD and neighbouring sites. These pedestrian routes include the civic connector, the pedestrian boulevard and a pedestrian bridge over Harbour Street, one of Sydney’s busiest roads. The redevelopment also included upgrades to roads to allow clear sight lines and underground public parking, making the ground plane safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The precinct is in use 24 hours a day, helping to make it a comfortable place to walk through at any time of the day or night.

Principle: Context

Darling Quarter is a true integration of urban design, architecture and landscape architecture to create a new public place within the city. It has a unified character that responds to the urban and park context through high quality materials such as timber, stone, steel and glass.

Photograph of the Commonwealth Bank Building western facade featuring adjustable timber louvres and rows of established palm trees
The efficient building envelope responds elegantly to Sydney’s climatic conditions and the dual city and park frontages. On the city side the buildings have a slick corporate appearance in contrast to the clear glazed western façade that is softened by warm timber mullions and louvers that move in a shifting pattern throughout the day. At night the western façade becomes an interactive digital canvas and provides a backdrop to the precinct feature lighting.

The landscape uses native plants and local fauna suited the Sydney climate and they provide shade for seating areas. The history of the site has been interpreted and inlayed as text in the main civic connector to inform pedestrians of times past. The water play area in the playground is designed to reference the sites industrial history through the use of pumps and water wheels.

Darling Quarter has re-shaped the southern end of Darling Harbour into a functional, attractive and sustainable precinct and created new facilities and connections that have spurred improvements to the whole of Darling Harbour and the western edge of the Sydney CBD

Principle: Engagement

The development unites all aspects of the built environment and exhibits excellence in architecture, landscape, interior design, engineering, construction and place making. Darling Quarter draws together the physical environment, social function and economic viability to create a place of distinct beauty and identity.

In the past, people simply passed through the site and it had few attractors that made people want to spend time there. Today, the precinct is activated by over 6,500 workers in the new commercial buildings and the millions of families and tourists, who come to the playground, children’s theatre, picnic on the community green or dine at the bustling retail terrace.

Principle: Excellence

The development has won numerous awards across many disciplines including architecture, interior design, landscape, urban renewal, public domain, construction and sustainability. This is testament to the innovative design and high quality materials used throughout to create a high quality precinct.

The project exemplifies innovation in the following areas:

  • Architecture: Prior to Darling Quarter, never before in Sydney or areas of similar low latitudes has a commercial building successfully utilised virtually clear glass (62 percent visual light transmittance) for west facing facades. The success of Darling Quarters glazing system has not only increased the aesthetics of the building but also daylight penetration.
  • Engineering: The Darling Quarter Recycled Water Plant treats 245 kilolitres a day of wastewater to produce high quality recycled water.
  • Landscape: The bespoke interactive water play area is the first of its kind.
  • Lighting: The digital façade lighting is one of the largest interactive canvases in the world.

The sheer number of return visitors, the glowing reviews on social blogs and websites and the positive press write-ups are proof of the success of Darling Quarter. The project exemplifies design excellence and leading sustainable design initiatives creating an inclusive, free, public place used by the community day and night.

Principle: Custodianship

Lend Lease with the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority (SHFA) have created a plan for Darling Quarter to encourage activity in the precinct and also to ensure its on-going maintenance needs are met. Darling Quarter’s operational budgets incorporate ongoing event programming initiatives; a rare occurrence in other similar developments. The precinct has its own music and events curator and Lend Lease is working closely with SHFA and Jones Land LaSalle to structure family orientated programs at Darling Quarter, including:

  • Weekly children’s story times on rugs on the community green run by the Story Tellers Guild Association
  • Interactive music programs for pre-school children on the site which run regularly
  • An installable outdoor cinema for children, Little Darling Flicks, will run on the site for two weeks in January 2013.
Last modified: September 1, 2015