OCULUS: The Franklin Wharf project builds upon the very latent qualities of site which make the identity and beauty of the place so remarkably distinctive and memorable. The project’s design is clearly about the qualities of the existing site which have been revealed and amplified, and what is enabled through intervention, rather than what has been developed in a formal way. The ambiguous nature of the existing working wharf (with its industrial origin, purpose, and character, and all its industrial programmatic overlays) as a publicly accessible edge of the city of Hobart was the very foundation and driving strategy for the positioning of our very particular design response.

OCULUS were commissioned by the Sullivan’s Cove Waterfront Authority (SCWA) to undertake concept design, design development, contract documentation and contract administration services for the delivery of $1.0m improvements to Franklin Wharf which would maintain the area as a shared space, and attract the public to the waterfront. Stage 1 is the first of two stages completed for a capital cost of $0.4m; Stage 2 construction commences July 2010, for a budget of $0.6m.

Providing improvements intended for the public, and maintaining the functions and character of a working wharf are seemingly incongruous objectives. As more and more public space around the world becomes generic, with familiar assortments of either standardized or custom-designed suites of furniture, paving, and artwork, the location (the place) and the citizen (local and visitor) are casualties. Places become increasingly homogenous as the generic takes over the local, as design form takes over function, and as the ordained takes over the natural processes of time. Citizens become increasingly disengaged, dulled by sameness, and dumbed-down by prescription of where to sit, where to walk, what to read, and what is considered to be “nice”, “good”, and “improved”. The project is uniquely positioned in its conceptual ideology. It discards the notion of public space as type, and promotes instead an appeal to the intellectual capacity of people to enquire, interpret and enjoy urban environments which are not designed urban public spaces.

Instead of making new public space on the wharf, discrete, and obvious (both visually and in demonstration of the project’s capital investment), and subjecting citizens and visitors to the behaviors normally associated with public space, the concept of “granting public permission” to use a working wharf maintains the wharf as wharf, and the visitor as visitor. The wharf is maintained as a field to be encountered, with all its rich industrial and maritime infrastructure, smells, workings and heightened sense of operations, and the integrity of the visitor as intelligent and responsive citizen is nurtured.

Subtle interventions based on wharf infrastructure technology, morphed in a hyper real way, are strategically located around the wharf in intentionally limited frequency (compared to existing industrial features), to act as indicators of public permission to use the wharf. Interventions include: bold industrial red stripe paint markings and implied crane shadow around an existing crane which previously sat neglected, unloved and un-admired; a new movable steel stage, and stair platform which serve to host an unimaginable range of daily and programmed events, including the annual Sydney to Hobart Yacht race celebrations; detailed timber bleachers which provide access to an existing lower deck level and afford opportunity to be in closer contact with water, in the sun, and out of the wind; a new steel access ramp providing code-compliant accessibility to the water’s edge; removal of waterside car parking (line marking) to free up more waterside space for the public, and rationalizing the balance of car parking (line marking) to maintain the wharf as an unprescriptive shared space where no one user (vehicle, boat, person) has priority.

The project demonstrates the value of a context-based response to design, where site mapping and intuitive reflections led to an understanding and appreciation of the essence of the Cove. The direct realization of the work as designed is testament to a close client/consultant working relationship, the scope of services commissioned, detailed documentation and site inspections, use of CAD documentation in setting out, and in the main, local Tasmanian contractors who took pride and ownership of construction.

The Franklin Wharf Stage 1 project promotes the dynamic social, cultural and economic aspects of sustainability. The interventions were designed in genuine consultation with land owners and stakeholders to ensure appropriateness of response and ownership. The design is incredibly flexible and adaptable to the needs of the community. In developing the intervention concepts, local participation was engaged through the local OCULUS led and commissioned consultant team, through local specialist advisors, and use the of local trades predominantly.

Landscape Architecture: OCULUS
Project Title: Franklin Wharf Improvements – Stage 1.
Location: Hobart, Tasmania
Budget: $0.4m (stage 1)
Text & photos: Oculus

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