Giving the city centre an iconic heart that the community can be proud of.


Shellharbour City Council


Completed 2018




Shellharbour, NSW

This project is a major milestone in the masterplan vision for Shellharbour, giving the city centre an iconic heart that the community can be proud of. The public domain is a green, welcoming urban place that is soft, informal and offers a place of both activity and respite in the city centre.

Place-led consultation revealed core cultural aspects of Shellharbour, including a connection to the coast, water and active lifestyles. Collaboration with local Indigenous elders and artists was integral to creating a place that resonates with the community; a place with a ‘generous, fresh and flowing’ civic centre and a ‘comfortable, organic and surprising’ public domain.

The public domain scheme responded to these place insights in a highly considered way. Taking inspiration from the natural characteristics of Shellharbour – shells and waves in particular – the public domain has varying layers of experience and function. The landscape design started with an appreciation of the steep topography, and the need to establish a public domain that unites with the surrounding urban fabric and parkland.

Water Sensitive Urban Design was a key component to this project with the development connecting to undersized drainage infrastructure and located adjacent to a creek. A series of vegetated swales down steep embankments delivered improvements to the city’s stormwater infrastructure bolstering native landscape biodiversity and canopy cover simultaneously.

Challenging the norm of what an urban ‘civic square’ should look or feel like, the Civic Square features a generously proportioned central green; a versatile space that is equally appropriate for active play, large community events, and small group gatherings under the shade. This decision to create a ‘park-square’ was driven by the community aspiration for a place that is green and relaxed, as opposed to formal and urban. 

Fluid forms of informal seating frame the central green, while a meandering creekline is a cooling, sensory feature that follows the built form of the civic hub and offers a distinct transition between inside and out. The creekline references the story of water in the Illawarra escarpment, and forms part of the ‘Aquifer’ artwork by Artist Kim Williams.

Weaving Pods by artists Uncle Steven Russell and Kristine Stewart uses woven work to create designs on concrete seating elements along the creekline. The patterns reflect the movement of Aboriginal people through the coastal landscape, the coastline as habitat and the coming together of communities.

As Shellharbour CBD grows and evolves, Shellharbour Civic Centre is playing an increasingly important role in fostering connection and public life, fostering ownership and self-determination, and educating and informing the local community. As part of the post-occupancy evaluation of the project, conversations with Shellharbour City Council’s Library manager, Margie Kirkness, have revealed the importance of the Civic Square and parkland lawn to achieving these key outcomes.

“It’s great that we’ve been able to activate the Civic Square with various activities, including a ‘story trail’ for families, youth markets, and events such as ‘Arty Party’ and ‘The Big Draw’. We affectionately call the lower planting ‘the backyard’ and the youth public art work Biotica sits very comfortably there. The backyard also serves as a great breakout space for school groups when they come on tour to our City Library and Museum.”

“[Shellharbour Civic Centre] is a world-class, environmentally sustainable and welcoming public meeting place. The Civic Centre has become the beating heart of our city.”

Marianne Saliba, Mayor of Shellharbour