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Parks Week 2024 | Interview with Nathan Clausen | Principal, Arcadia.

Posted on 05.03.2024 in architecture , Brisbane Playgrounds , Company News , Inspiration , landscape architecture. , landscape design , Playground Design , Playgrounds , urban design

For Parks Week, we spoke with Nathan Clausen, Principal at Arcadia Landscape Architecture. With over two decades of experience as a Landscape Architect, Nathan brings a profound understanding of urban design, site context and people-centered design. His extensive portfolio spans diverse sectors, including mixed-use precincts, civic spaces, health, aged care, education, transport, defence, and sports/recreation facilities. Nathan’s commitment to contextual understanding allows him to enhance any typology and terrain. We spoke with Nathan about the evolution of Brisbane, his pivotal role in crafting the city’s first vertical school, and insights on designing a flexible urban environment for Brisbane’s resilience pre and post-Olympics.


1. Reflecting on your time in Brisbane since 2005, how have you witnessed the evolution of the city and its public spaces? Is there a particular spot in Brisbane that holds a special place in your heart?

Brisbane has been transformed over that time into a destination where people want to come and live work and play. This has been through numerous factors like the laneway bar and café culture, and boutique breweries and restaurant scene exploding. This along with the delivery of some standout public spaces like Howard Smith Wharves, Fish Lane and the soon to open Queens Wharf Precinct has created so many places that attracts not only locals but people both nationally and internationally.

Personally, I love spending time in several surrounding natural gems like D’Aguilar National Park, Lamington National Park or Springbrook National Park as they are not only beautiful and relaxing but also provide inspiration and knowledge of how these environments can shape how we design the urban landscape, parks and playgrounds we have the pleasure of collaborating on.

2.Collaborating with Hutchinson Builders , RPS, and Thomson Adsett, Arcadia played a pivotal role in shaping Brisbane’s inaugural vertical school and the first inner-city high school in half a century. What were the key design principles influencing the space, and how did they shape the overall vision? Were there notable challenges during design or construction, and how were they navigated?

It was exciting to work with Hutchies and Thomson Adsett on Brisbane’s first vertical school, creating an adaptive environment that positions FVSSC as a part of the Fortitude Valley community. Landscape components connect each level of the vertical structure creating a series of dynamic learning and breakout spaces that are uniquely suited to an urban sub-tropical environment. 

 Arcadia applied our extensive experience in education design to deliver a flexible landscape which can be used to facilitate learning, recreation and structured school gatherings, including assemblies and performances.

 Creating multifunctional spaces and places that cater for different age groups and genders were key design principles to ensure students not only had places they could enjoy during lunch breaks but also for outdoor learning and exercise which is something that we should be promoting more of with the great climate we live in.  

 The oval acts as the school’s main open space, as well as contributing green space to the Fortitude Valley community. A hard-working space, the oval’s positioning and design is required to respond to many of the site’s constraints, including landscape to provide visual and noise buffering from the 4-track rail corridor, and acting as a detention basin in heavy rain events. Open to the public for use outside of school hours the oval acts as a lung for the campus and the wider community, allowing for a piece of open greenspace that helps an increasingly vertical and dense inner-city environment breathe.

3.You’ve highlighted Brisbane’s limited square meters per person compared to cities like New York. As urban density increases, what creative and cost-effective approaches can councils, building owners, and designers employ to transform concrete into inspiring spaces for high-rise dwellers?

 As density increases in different areas of Brisbane, we’re seeing the character of suburbs change as well as the character of residents. With the increased amenity supplied within mixed use developments, apartment living is appealing to a wider cross living of people, with many more families moving into inner city areas.

Space is constrained so we’ve been working with stakeholders on a range of projects that use innovative thinking about the way we use existing assets, such as airspace over the railway line or an unutilised car park, to deliver open space and playspaces, crucial to connecting a changing community. In Sydney, we worked with Lane Cove Council to deliver a 5,000sqm park on a concrete slab constructed over a rail line, which was far more cost effective than buying the equivalent in land to deliver the same space.

When designing open space in high rise developments, we look to provide a micro neighbourhood within a neighbourhood, allowing residents to feel a sense of belonging.

Apartments that offer podiums with park-like experiences really help to build a community. By designing to offer a diverse range of offerings, it allows individuals and groups to take part in a range of activities, including recreation, children’s playspaces, swimming, exercise gym,  even upper-level dog lawns. Finding the right balance of functionality, programming and amenity is  essential to the success of these spaces.

4. With Urban Designers and Landscape Architects set to play a crucial role in Brisbane’s Olympic preparations, you’ve emphasised the importance of creating a flexible urban environment post-Games. What strategies can achieve this flexibility, and what other factors do you consider critical for Brisbane’s resilience pre and post-Olympics?

We feel that there is opportunity to create legacy sites through renewal within existing infrastructure.  These are the places and spaces that already showcase Brisbane’s character and, depending on the site, help support local wildlife and habitat.

To achieve long-term success for these types of urban-renewal projects, amenities and services need to be within easy reach to respond the the community’s increasing desire for convenience.

Blending ‘old’ and ‘new’ is critical to the success of any upgrade or ‘renewal’ project. Think old steel frames or concrete structures, mature trees with broad canopies — alongside repurposed spaces with new modern seating, lighting and artwork. Clever contrasts and complementary design are what’s needed to reimagine existing sites into ‘destinations’ that will retain their popularity long after the games.

Done well, ‘renewal’ projects become popular places for both locals and tourists. Beyond being Insta-worthy drawcards, they evolve into much-loved places that people frequent daily for dining, working, shopping and much more.

Whilst the social and cultural benefits of this approach are far reaching, there are other significant rewards for undertaking renewal projects. Compare the cost (financially and environmentally) of demolition versus retention of existing assets. In most cases, a look at the ledger indicates fortune truly does favour the brave!

 5. Reflecting on your career as a Landscape Architect, could you share your favourite project and its significance? How do you measure the success of a project in your field?

Ive been very fortunate to worked on so many amazing projects over the last 20 years however if I could nominate just one favourite project it would have to be the Reconciliation Garden at the University of Queensland Herston Campus. It was our first QLD project working with the local First Nations community and in particular Gaja Kerry Charlton and Kaylie Salvatore who was Arcadia’s first Indigenous strategist. It was such a collaborative project working together with the University to create a place where medical students could learn about the traditional plants used by First Nations people in healing practices. The space was designed not only for students at the university but with the aim to also attract the community into the space as well.

For me personally success on any project I am involved with is seeing people using and enjoying the places and spaces we have designed and created.  Creating memories and talking about them to friends and families is extremely rewarding.