Hortus – Harbour Esplanade Temporary Activation Project


  • Folk Architects - Christie Petsinis + Tim Wilson
  • Utopian Slumps - Melissa Loughnan / Artist: Lauren Berkowitz / Cafe: Seven Seeds
  • Contractors: FDC / The Glass House Company / Stowe / Aston
  • Suppliers: Viridian Glass / Euroluce / International Paints
  • Consultants: Aecom / Philip Chun / Montlaur Project Services. Clients: City of Melbourne / Places Victoria


Places Victoria awarded the Temporary Activation of the Docklands Harbour Esplanade to ‘Utopian Folk’, a collaboration between Utopian Slumps and Folk Architects.
Hortus (Latin for garden), consists of a temporary glass house that incorporates an edible plant installation by artist
 Lauren Berkowitz, and a café by Seven Seeds. The innovative structure can be used for community events and easily relocated in the future.
Situated on the waterfront at Docklands, Hortus has successfully transformed an underutilised dock. As a meeting place and refuge in a stretch of exposed waterfront, Hortus is drawing a new audience and positive perception to Melbourne’s Docklands.

Key Features


Hortus focuses on finer grain, unique and small-scale interventions.
Its communal approach and gardens serve as a metaphor for utopian ideals – the project’s success is represented by the willingness of a diverse group of organisations to provide in kind support, with a common vision to renew and nurture the growth of this precinct.

During the project’s implementation, a series of activities were carried out to occupy the site including permitting Melbourne’s Food Trucks to host lunches. Utopian Folk engaged with people at during these interventions, and discussed their perceptions and ideas about the area.


Collaboration was a key component for realising Hortus. Working with a limited budget, Utopian Folk engaged likeminded organisations, bringing together people who shared a common vision for activating the site and creating this community place.

The scale and form of the pavilion, with its external planting and seating encourages social engagement by providing a humble ‘backyard’ like environment for residents, workers and visitors.

The Hortus project enlisted a high degree of cross-disciplinary design – integrating art, architecture and urban design to accommodate and appeal to a broad range of user groups.


Sustainable Design
The multi-use pavilion is low-energy, utilising passive design principles – including high-performance glass, shade canopy, water tank, operable roof vent and cross-ventilation. There is no mechanical heating or cooling.

Recycled materials were sourced locally – including timber seating, repurposed concrete pipes with indigenous plants and bike rails.

As the Docklands’ development is ongoing, the structure was specifically designed to be relocatable for the future reuse beyond the intended 18-month Project Activation period.


Site Context
The exposed Waterfront and Central Harbour location, bridges commercial/residential, Etihad Stadium/AFL house/ Channel 7. Hortus provides a finer grain public realm that promotes ideals of sustainable living with an edible plant installation. The nature of the project facilitates chance encounters and opportunities for people to socially engage through its intriguing form, multi-use space that can house events and landscape.


Urban Renewal
The project has also been a catalyst for improvements and other initiatives within the area including additional seating and planting to co-habitat with Hortus.
The inherent intrigue of the pavilion promotes social interaction and is becoming a meeting place for the community that evokes a comfortable backyard setting and brings people to an otherwise desolate area.

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