All Systems Go

27 February 2017

Development plans for a new biosciences building are causing concern due to their impact on the University’s System Garden, which has already shrunk to a quarter of its original size since its inception in 1856.

Originally a purely scientific design of radial, concentric circles arranged by plant type, the garden follows a tradition established by institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge.

The System Garden is believed to be the only garden of its kind left in Australia, with less than half a dozen left in the world. Much of the original is now covered by buildings.

According to a feasibility brief leaked to Farrago, the Western Edge Biosciences development is scheduled to commence in mid 2017 and is predicted to set the University back approximately $85 million by the time it is completed in December 2019.

Tim Uebergang, Curator of Horticulture at the University, says the System Garden holds historical significance at a national level.

“Everyone from within the University’s Grounds department from the Grounds Supervisor down are astonished with the actual size of the garden being acquiesced for the bioscience building development.”

“The older northern end of Building 142 could see a modern replacement but I am not sure if it should be at the expense of a significant amount – 10 per cent – of historical garden and valuable open space.”

A spokesperson from the University said that downsizing the garden would be much less than the 10 per cent figure circulated by critics of the plan.

“The University is absolutely committed to maintaining the integrity of the System Garden. It is at the heart of our biosciences precinct, and is a significant and cherished part of the University and wider community.”

“A revised masterplan for the site will be developed as part of the construction process, which will aim to expand the plant collection of the Garden. This masterplan will acknowledge the investment the University has made into the Garden over the years.”

The questionable future of the unique System Garden has attracted attention more broadly than just within University staff, with concerns raised by the local horticulture community.

Australian Garden History Society member Trevor Pitkin has been advocating for the preservation of the System Garden since the development came to light.

“It’s like playing with the space like it’s just all negotiable and tradeable, it’s just numbers on an architect’s sheet.”

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