A photograph of lush, green, rambunctious planting in a rooftop garden. The top of a timber seat is visible in the foreground, the background is a tangle of plants.

Rambunctious Rooftop

03 Nov 2022

We revisited Arkadia Apartments on Gadigal Land in Sydney’s Alexandria, two years after the gardens were planted, and were thrilled to find a well-tended landscape teeming with life – even the recycled bricks play host to a patina of moss and lichen.

The buzz of pollinators filled the air as we wandered through terraces bursting with a wild array of plants, each competing for their place in this exuberant ecology. Even though it was only the beginning of spring there was an abundance of species blooming, filling spaces and cascading over walls. In the communal veggie garden, a family of ducks had made a home, and we watched delightedly as ducklings weaved between the raised garden beds.

A photograph of plants growing wildly around a curved timber seating area in a rooftop garden. There are various textures and tones of green, as well as bright purple flowers dancing about.

A photograph of moss and lichen growing on a dark, recycled brick wall.

A photograph of a rooftop terrace, mounds of plants are visible, ducklings run across the frame. Rooftops and tall apartment buildings are in view.

The word ‘Arcadia’ raises romantic notions of a utopian landscape – simple pleasure and quiet. Often the subject of classical and renaissance mythology; Arcadian landscapes have been painted and written about for centuries by artists and poets attempting to describe an idyllic vision of unspoilt wilderness, where people lived with nature.

The driving idea behind our design for Arkadia was a garden that engulfed the architecture. The word ‘rambunctious’ was thrown around early on with architects DKO and Breathe, as we dreamt of a new paradigm in apartment living where residents are immersed in an abundant landscape. Where kitchen waste is collected to feed chickens on the rooftop and create compost for flowering meadows that provide food for local bees and visiting pollinators, and human residents are rewarded with eggs and honey. Where herbs are foraged on the way home to cook dinner, and kitchen gardens filled with perennial flowers, fruit trees and fragrant plants are communal places to spend time, as well as grow food.

A photograph of plants trailing down the side of recycled brick garden beds.

A close photograph of a bee coming into land on bright purple lavender flowers.

On the roof, we sought to create a plantscape that evoked that profound feeling of elation we have experienced on mountain hikes, sitting on cliff edges looking out at endless ocean and sky; or visiting the desert during a super bloom. The ‘New Perennial’ movement in northern Europe captures this sensation well, albeit for a short period in late summer when seasonal planting reaches its zenith before declining into winter hibernation. In Sydney, where we are afforded warmer weather year-round, our challenge was to stretch this feeling across all the seasons; knowing that the residents are just as likely to be entertaining friends outside in mid-winter as they are to be hosting a rooftop barbeque in the height of summer.

A photograph of a person relaxing in a rooftop garden. They are sitting on a curved seat, at a curved table, and wearing sunglasses. Lush green planting and a glimpse of Sydney's skyline make up the background.

We wanted the planting to be as diverse as possible, beginning with plants native to the varying ecologies around Sydney – mountain escarpments and coastal clifftops for the rooftop, rainforest gullies for shaded spaces – we then expanded our selection to plants from compatible environments around Australia and the world.

With high rainfall, reasonably high humidity, and no frost, Sydney’s climate allows for a huge range of plants to thrive. By harvesting rainwater, and providing good drainage, we can create the right conditions for unique combinations to sit happily alongside each other. The result is a lush mishmash that adheres to no particular style, but it’s a place where unusual textural combinations provide year-round interest, and there is always something in flower.

A photograph of brightly coloured foliage plants in a shady space at the base of an apartment building.

A photograph of a citrus tree, surrounded by herbs, in a communal roof terrace. More of the recycled brick apartment building, and green roof are in the background.

A photograph of people, almost hidden, in a green rooftop garden. City buildings are visible in the background.

A photograph of ducklings walking beside a recycled brick, raised garden bed.

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