Paddington's defunct reservoir is reworked into Sydney's newest and most intriguing urban park
Paddington Reservoir Gardens, the adaptive reuse of an old water reservoir in Sydney, is a celebration of civic ‘ruins’. In conserving precious building materials - both their embodied energy and the urban memory imbued within them - architects Tonkin Zulaikha Greer sought to express the maturity of this modern city.
When commissioned to convert the Reservoir into an urban park, it was expected that the underground site would be capped-off and a brand new arrangement built on top. Instead, the architects were captivated by the possibility of revealing the 19th century structure as a ruin through which the public could wander, taking in the dramatic spaces and play of light across the remnants of historic walls and vaults. The concept for the new use lurked within the artefact.
Listed as a site of state heritage significance, the Reservoir was originally completed in 1878. The water chambers built below street level with a grassed park above, opened to the public in the 1930’s. The operational life of the reservoir ceased in 1899 and the site used as a workshop / garage until 1990 when roof collapses forced its closure.
All materials from the historic structure were retained and minimal built forms connect remnants and signal entry to and access points around the site. A restricted pallet of three modern materials - steel, aluminium and concrete - partners the historic brick, cast iron and timber, united in their raw industrial expression. This austerity, crucial to the memory of the original structure’s purpose, is softened by the importance given to landscaping and the walkways inviting everyone to explore the whole park.
Elizabeth Farrelly, architecture critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, said of the project: "Everyone loves it. People hang out just for the pleasure of it, which is seriously unusual in Sydney… this is a world-class weave of ancient and modern and I love it too."