Play for all: Readapting a civic space in the heart of Randwick
Redevelopment of the historic Newmarket precinct sees its legacy retained, with the former Sales Ring transformation now a place for community to gather and play.
In the shade of a Moreton Bay fig, parents watch on as delighted squeals and peals of laughter are elicited from the adjacent playground. But the term ‘playground’ doesn’t quite do this space justice – this is an adventure park.
Sales Ring Playground at Newmarket Randwick was conceived by Arcadia Landscape Architecture as part of a wider reinvigoration of the Newmarket precinct. Once the site of the Newmarket Sales Ring, a former amphitheatre-style thoroughbred sales yard, the precinct continues the legacy of gathering with an emphasis on play and recreation.
Despite the Sales Ring having no heritage protection, Arcadia decided it was important to retain the structure and adapt it to suit its new visitors. “We saw the potential to repurpose the ‘bones’ of the Sales Ring as the centrepiece of the new parkland”, says Arcadia principal, Michael Barnett.
In fact, without the Sales Ring structure, the playground could not have taken its unique form. The framework “with the original building fabric peeled back” provided the structure for the surrounding climbing frames and play elements, including the space’s central anchor – a double-helix slide. It is the stuff of thrill-seeking primary children’s dreams, and perhaps the apprehension of parents.
Just like the new seating and raised garden beds surrounding the grand Moreton Bay fig, other elements of the site’s former life have been adapted. Inspiration was taken from the horse parades for the use of colour and graphics in the playground; whilst materials like timber, recycled from the stables, sandstone and brick paving evoke the site’s history.
Arcadia ensured reaching the apex of the slides was as fun as the journey down them. The looping pattern of using the slide is intuitive, but at the same time not repetitive. A web of climbing nets leads to the slide entrances but in true ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style, children have more than one way to get to the top through their shortcuts and secret routes. One child exclaiming “I can beat you because I know the secret way”, skips a large climbing net on the upper terrace and instead takes the steps followed by a shorter climbing net. Confidence and comfort in decision-making are important skills to develop in early childhood, and play-spaces that provide multiple opportunities for both individual and group play are ample practice grounds.
Most of the elements of the playground are suspended. As Barnett explains “the ground plane is particularly open and welcomes exploration”. The transparent structure of the playground also offers clear sightlines to the play area, facilitating informal supervision. A multitude of different swings, smaller slides and carousels are accessible to all ages, and the auctioneer’s box has been designed for toddlers as a set apart, less-frantic place to safely play.
The playground sits within Inglis Park, with both projects garnering Arcadia AILA NSW Awards for their considered approach to embracing local history and response to adapting the civic space for its new users. Residential and retail also encompass parts of the precinct with nearby apartment buildings, including Newmarket Residence and Figtree Pocket, as well as the lively Newmarket Dining precinct. “This colocation is something that should be strived for – how to plan a human experience that delivers a sense of community and social engagement, that then stimulates the local economy through use of retail amenity,” says Barnett.
Indeed, a mixed-used, family-friendly community space with easy access to dining and retail is rarely available in close proximity to medium and high-density developments in Australia. The Arcadia team recognised “an unmissable opportunity to create a new destination for Randwick built on the unique past site and local history.”
Prioritising children and families in the design of the precinct has underpinned the success of Newmarket Randwick as an intergenerational space. The increasing number of families with children residing in apartment buildings in Australian metropolitan areas calls for more child-friendly neighbourhoods surrounding these developments; indeed, the Newmarket precinct can lead as an example for future developments of this type. Other high- and mid-rise developments can learn from this design typology to encourage demographic diversity and, therefore, support liveability of neighbourhoods.
“Arcadia’s vision for Inglis Park was to capture the lively atmosphere once created by the Newmarket sales,” says Barnett. “Our intention is that every day in Inglis Park and Sales Ring Playground feels like it did on those few occasions each year, when people travelled from all over the Australia to gather under the canopy of the original fig tree.”
The achievements of the Sales Ring Playground and Inglis Park projects were both recognised by AILA NSW’s 2021 awards, winning an Award of Excellence and an Award of Landscape Architecture respectively.
Fatemeh Aminpour is an Associate Lecturer in the program of Landscape Architecture at UNSW and a Research Associate in the City Futures Research Centre. Her PhD in Environment-Behaviour explores the role of in-between spaces within outdoor school environments in children’s expression of agency.