John Whitton Bridge Open Space

OCULUS: Located on the shores of the Parramatta River at the northern end of the Rhodes Peninsula John Whitton Bridge Open Space provides a contemporary multi-functional open space under the historic John Whitton and Meadowbank pedestrian and rail bridges that links between the east and west sides of Rhodes. The design of the public open space for the John Whitton Bridge project creates a simple spatial structure which seeks to provide maximum community benefit and cater for a wide range of recreational opportunity and flexibility.

Key to this has been the creation of two distinct spaces, each with their own character and program, which are strongly linked both visually and physically, namely:
• The western part of the site under the bridges which fronts onto the Parramatta River and forms the main gathering and viewing space, as well as providing for the east-west pedestrian and cycle route through the site; and
• The eastern part of the site along Blaxland Road which acts as a more functional space accommodating pedestrian circulation and access up to bridge level, as well as vehicle access and trailer parking associated with the new public boat ramp.
The western space under the John Whitton Bridge forms the main gathering space focused on the Parramatta River edge with the backdrop formed by the two bridge abutments. The bridges and abutments will effectively form the roof and backwall to this space fronting onto the River, creating a different type of space to the more open spaces found elsewhere on the Rhodes Peninsula along the water’s edge. This restriction in horizontal and vertical space helps to define this space as an “outdoor room” and reinforce it as a special place and a destination. The key design gestures within this space include:
• An occupiable zone along the water’s edge consisting of a series of tilted concrete platforms and level decks which create gathering spaces and seating edges, as well as opportunities for more informal seating and play;
• A clear pedestrian and cycle route through the centre of the space connecting to Point Park and the foreshore promenade to the west, and to Blaxland Road to the east (and from there to the cycleway across the river to Meadowbank);
• A series of low planters along the back of the space forming a simple base treatment to the two bridge abutments;
• Feature lighting of the platforms and decks, as well as the bridge abutments, to make the space more attractive at night.

A simple palette of materials was used for the project, reflecting its past industrial character and respecting the heritage bridge abutments, consisting primarily of concrete with select use of corten steel. The concrete elements included both precast and insitu forms of construction. The tilted panels and bollards are precast with the panels being formed and poured on site, then craned into position before a grit blast finish was applied. The panels are supported on insitu concrete walls and their different shapes and angles created significant challenges in terms of setting out and installation. Both precast panels and bollards include integrated lighting as part of their design. The project also included extensive use of insitu concrete paving, for both pedestrian and vehicle areas. The eastern area on Blaxland Road is intended to act as a shared vehicle – pedestrian zone and has a cove trowel finish. The western space under the bridges was designed with 2 integral finishes (grit blast & cove trowel) in a banded pattern, with inlayed steel channels to intercept runoff from the adjacent steel walls. The project has proven to be very successful with the local community who have adopted this previously unloved and derelict space. The project completes a valuable link in the open space network of the Rhodes Peninsula and is popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists. In addition to the well-used boat ramp and trailer parking area, the space under the bridge is used for tai chi, fitness workouts and children’s play, as well as quieter activities such as fishing and just sitting and enjoying the river views.

Landscape Architects: OCULUS
Project Name: John Whitton Bridge Open Space
Design team: OCULUS (Lead consultant), ARUP (Lighting Design); Cardno (Civil & structural engineering); and WT Partnership (Quantity Surveying)
Location: Rhodes, Sydney, NSW
Client: City of Canada Bay
Year of construction: 2013
Budget: $2 million
Image credits: Simon Patching, Photographer
Awards: 2014 Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (NSW) Design Award

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