Open Field Agency

2017 -2021

High level concepts for Public Domain of the Dank Street South Precinct
City of Sydney 

Vision for Dank Street South Precinct 2020.

Who decides how public space is made? Who is ‘the public' it is made for? Could the many different publics who are connected to a place come together and share in its making?

This project aims to bring together the voices of local residents, community organisations, traditional owners, businesses, property developers, land owners, local government, planners, architects and artists to help shape a new public space. A public space which we hope will be useful, beautiful and unique.

We have been commission by the City of Sydney through it’s public art program, City Art, to develop a conceptual framework for the public areas of the Danks Street South Precinct in Waterloo, Sydney.

This innovative approach initiated by City Art, invites socially engaged artists, working in conversation with the community, into the early stages of the public domain planning and design process. Working in this way, as part of a collaborative planning and design team, seeks to ensure the public domain incorporates not only the artistic vision of public artists but also the needs and desires of the community.

The Danks Street South precinct is an area of Waterloo bordered by Danks, Young, McEvoy and Bourke Streets. The site is most easily identified by the large concrete open field surrounding the Sydney Water Pumping Station and Valve House still in operation in the south-eastern corner of the precinct. In addition to this many existing commercial and industrial buildings are still in use at the precinct’s northern end.

Like a lot of places in the area, this place about to change. A lot of new buildings will be built, mostly this will be private space, places where people will live or work: houses, shops and offices. But for the first time in generations, part of this site will be open to everyone. A place that is not for sale or for rent. A place anyone can go. A public place.

What have we done so far?

As the first step in creating a vision for the public spaces of this site, we spoke with the community surrounding the Danks Street South Precinct so that local peoples’ stories, values and ideas could help shape the future public spaces to be developed.

We conducted an open research week based at Artbank on Young street in Waterloo. We met with 64 individuals by appointment and drop in. The majority of these meetings took place at Artbank or on the footpath by the site, with the remainder at Ron Williams Centre, NCIE, Redfern Community Centre, Yui Ming Temple and cafes in Redfern to Zetland.

The people we spoke to were generous with their memories, insights, ideas and recommendations for the site. We were given a wealth of ideas, reflections and suggestions. As clear as the diversity of desires and perspectives was the fact that we had barely scratched the surface.

As such we believe it would be a huge mistake to simply take what we have found and attempt to turn it into some kind of frozen-in-time representation of this place and its people.

So rather than presenting a catalogue of desires from which we pick and choose we present our findings as a set of fundamental desires, those which cut across the conflicts and locate a common base from which to build a set of concepts. We take these not as ‘options’ but as mandatory guiding principles, and measures against the concepts and eventual physical results will be judged.

This film by Nathaniel Kelly captures snippets of conversations we had with people who live, work, love and know this place.

Our report builds on these encounters to develop the fundamental principles of ‘openness’ that must be preserved in the development and eventual occupation of this important area in genuine partnership between local people, community groups, developers, land owners and council.

Have a look at the report here:

Site investigations. 

On the 18th and 19th of October 2019 together with Sydney Water and the City of Sydney we were able to open the site to the public for the first time in a century and offer free public tours of the site together with Sydney Water. 

Aerial photographs of the site from 1930 - 2018 illustrating how the site has changed over time.

Concept designs.

In 2020 and 2021 we have been working with  Jane Irwin Landscape Architects and Bangawarra to develop the concept designs of the public domain. We propose that this initial research be the basis for formulating an ongoing strategy for the development in this place. Our involvement is to help bring the communities’ aspirations into the process for the future public space, so we are guided by what we learned during this initial phase and remain open to further conversations and input.

We want this place to reflect the existing character of the local area and its people, acknowledge and celebrate local Aboriginal perspectives, and become a welcoming place to live and work for all. We have developed a range of strategies to initiate engagement with this site prior, during and post development. 

Example of temporary activation of site through Caretaker residencies proposed by MAPA Art & Architecture.

5 separate landowners and industrial strata units privately own land in this precinct. We are now working with the City to ensure that when future development takes place, well-designed and quality open spaces are available,  as well as an ongoing public art program and to embed pockets of rewilded landscapes.

In late 2020 the City of Sydney sought community feedback on the concept designs for the Dank Street South Precinct public domain plan through the participatory social pin point platform.

Thank you

We would like to extend our deep thanks to all the individuals who took the time to meet with us and share their knowledge, stories, ideas and understanding of this place and for whom it is special and important place.

We would also like to thank the following organisations who helped us to make connections with these people.

Counterpoint Connect
City West Housing
Friendship Bridge
Future Method
Kepos St Community Centre
Redfern Community Centre
We Live Here
Wyanga Elders
Yui Ming Temple

We acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional owner of the land and that sovereignty was never ceded. We pay our respects to their elders past and present, as well as to those of other indigenous nations who continue to live in and look after this place.

MAPA Art + Architecture
Heidi Axelsen + Hugo Moline.   ︎    ︎   

An art and architecture collaborative working between the social and the spatial.