Return to Royal Park


  • City of Melbourne
  • State Government of Victoria


Return to Royal Park is a partnership project between the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. It re-establishes parkland on the former densely developed site of Royal Children’s Hospital buildings. The technical design issues of establishing public parkland on such land have not been allowed to obscure a clear and well realized vision for the site based on community input, locally appropriate design themes and a role as a prominent new gateway for Royal Park.

This new landscape is ‘designed’ in every sense of the term and is being widely embraced by the community.

Key Features


‘Design’ in the sense of both functionality and aesthetics is central to the project. The removal of complex built structures from a site and the conversion of such unnatural land to a major public park pose considerable design problems. These include technical, social and thematic challenges: the provision of acceptable subsoil, soil and landforms is fundamental to a park and was achieved economically by inter-disciplinary design; community engagement ensured social attachment to the site where none previously existed; design respect for the Royal Park Master Plan and indigenous heritage engendered a deep connection between the new park and its users.


This project is an important contribution to the social, economic and environmental aspects of the celebrated ‘liveability’ of the City of Melbourne as well as a demonstration of long-standing commitment to ‘good design’ in the public realm. The project demonstrates how effective inter-disciplinary and inter-agency collaboration can direct the landscape design process to successful, cost-effective outcomes. In this case transformative design demonstrated that the expansion of Royal Park onto land previously occupied by the Royal Children’s Hospital could acceptably balance the parkland lost to facilitate the expansion of this renowned facility. This provides a model for comparable urban landscape projects.


The project develops the highly valued principles of the Royal Park Master Plan, enabling a new vision that prompts different ways of engaging with the City Of Melbourne\’s largest park. The Park / Children\’s Hospital relationship was known to be an important one, but the difference it has made to the experience of children, families and staff exceeds expectations. A place of delight and respite, for fun and activity, it has had overwhelmingly positive feedback from the community. The evidence is that this newly designed space is making a significant impact to local residents, Hospital patrons and visitors to Melbourne.


Design innovation underpins the success of the outcome. A key design principle was for play for all ages and abilities to be intrinsically connected with the new and existing landscape without being seen as a bounded space or a conventional playground.

This is achieved by maximizing opportunities offered by changes in site topography and by successfully balancing the limited tolerances of play safety parameters with the variability of natural materials. The cross-disciplinary design team worked closely together to massage slides into new, steep rocky embankments and develop bird’s nests, eel traps and interactive water features as key elements of play.


The Return to Royal Park project provides appreciable environmental gains. Itself a demonstration of efficient recycling of land and materials, the project also responds to the developmental needs of children in a way that encourages engagement with nature and a place for environmental education.

For example, subsoil excavated from the adjacent Royal Children’s Hospital construction was reused to create the designed topography, minimising transportation emissions. Also, the absence of topsoil provided an opportunity to import ‘designed’ material to suit the planned indigenous and native vegetation and to resist compaction through intensive use, thereby enhancing plant establishment and minimising maintenance obligations

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