South Lawn and Underground CarPark, ph: Federico Passi

Site Overview

site name:
South Lawn and Carpark
architects (landscape) :
Rayment and Stones, and Rayment & Associates
Ancher, Mortlock, Murray & Woolley
(Master planner: Bryce Mortlock)
date of commission:
date of completion:
South Lawn, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria
Garden and Car Park (Landscape)
protection status:
Victorian Heritage Register (H1004)
National Trust of Australia Heritage Register Victoria (B6479)
Associate Professor Andrew Saniga, October 2023.


The site of the South Lawn and Underground Car Park is around 1.2 hectares and is located adjacent to key buildings at the historic core of the Parkville Campus of the University of Melbourne. The Underground Car Park is characterized by a grid of innovatively designed structural supporting reinforced concrete shells and columns surrounded by car spaces that cater for approximately 370 cars. The car park space included some of the University’s essential services around its perimeter (such as gas lines etc) that linked the site with the greater campus. The South Lawn landscape mostly occupies the top of the car park but extends to an average of 30-40 metres beyond the structure, especially to the west adjacent the Baillieu Library. The landscape design is a unique synthesis of Rayment’s international modern landscape design aesthetic combined with Stones’ post-WWII ‘bush garden’ aesthetic, the latter of which is used to conceal the imposing concrete wall of the car park on its western side. The design’s main pedestrian axis is in the orientation of the original South Lawn’s axis, preserving the ceremonial entrance to the Parkville campus and its address to the original Quadrangle Building.

The Underground Car Park is constructed largely of hyperbolic paraboloid reinforced concrete structural shells and columns designed by engineer Richard (Dick) van der Molen of Loder and Bayly (formerly of Harris Lange and Partners). The tops of the columns are finished as rectangular shells approximately 8.5 x 10 metres that are filled with soil and capable of sustaining large (deciduous) trees. Water drainage through a specifically designed structured soil profile occurs via the core of the columns. Reinforced concrete panels form the walls and the car park surface is largely paved in asphalt. Two of the car park’s three pedestrian portals are created with recycled heritage fabric: the ‘Dublin’ door (from a 1745 house in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin); and, the ‘Colonial Bank’ door (two Atlas figures from a demolished bank in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne). The roof of the car park is the landscape of the South Lawn and is constructed in soft and hard landscape elements including: extensive brick paving, garden beds and lawn areas; avenue planting of large deciduous trees; a long rectangular shallow reflecting pool; a zig-zagging continuous timber bench seat and free-standing timber bench seats; a cenotaph relocated from the original South Lawn; a series of ‘bog gardens’ containing water-tolerant plant species; and, granite boulder terracing.

The Underground Car Park is of technical significance for its unusualness in terms of reinforced concrete ‘vaulted’ forms, its versatility and overall expression. Its technical significance extends to the symbiotic relationship developed between the engineering of the underground car park structure and the landscape enabled by that structure.

The Underground Car Park is of Social Significance in that it is a core public open space within the university community, playing host to vital pedestrian access routes, passive use, informal and informal gatherings, major events and cultural activities in the cycle of the University’s academic calendar, including the annual ANZAC Day war memorial services. The moving of the cenotaph from its subordinate position at the north-east corner of the site at the time of the South Lawn’s construction in the 1970s when ANZAC Day was less popular to its current site that affords larger gatherings inadvertently registers changing social values across four decades.

The Underground Car Park is of Aesthetic Significance because of the innovative, elegant and dramatic reinforced concrete hyperbolic paraboloid structural shells and columns in the context of the utilitarian purpose it fulfils.

The landscape of the South Lawn is aesthetically significant as a roof-top garden that integrates an array of disparate building forms that had encroached upon the historic nineteenth-century South Lawn. The South Lawn is aesthetically distinctive as a modern landscape that has mostly erased its nineteenth-century form but has simultaneously preserved a large green open space in the heart of the Parkville Campus. The landscape elements of the South Lawn, in particular the paving (‘University Grey’ bricks specifically produced for the University) and furniture (timber bench seating, rubbish bins and lighting) formed the progenitor for a suite of landscape elements across campus that have created a harmonious urban design for the campus.

The Underground Car Park is of Historic Significance as being an extraordinary car park for its time and in the Australian context, being concealed beneath a landscape and almost fully enclosed. The car park’s designers were of a high calibre who worked on influential projects and include: award-winning Sydney architect Bryce Mortlock and AMMW; John Loder and John Bayly of Loder and Bayly; and, Richard (Dick) van der Molen who is associated with significant mid-twentieth century projects in Victoria such as the Westgate Bridge. The car park’s two entrances demonstrate the creation of decorative elements formed with recycled heritage fabric. The car park is also significant in terms of public consciousness for its appearance on ABC Television and within the internationally successful Australian film Mad Max (1979).

The South Lawn landscape has played a key role in the modernisation of the Parkville campus’s nineteenth-century landscape character. It is historically significant in that few other of Australia’s ‘Sandstone Universities’ have been redeveloped to such a considerable extent so as to practically erase their original character. It includes a landscape by two of the founders of the profession of landscape architecture in Australia of the mid-1960s, Ellis Stones and Ronald Rayment, both of whom played highly distinctive roles in the push to institutionalise the profession in Australia (the AILA formed in 1966).

Other Texts

In December 1968 Sydney-based architecture and planning firm Anchor Mortlock Murray and Woolley Pty Ltd were appointed campus master planners for the University of Melbourne. A key component of their plan was a major new underground car park, and atop, the creation of a reconfigured South Lawn as the campus’s major open space whilst also unifying disparate architectural styles at the University’s core. The car park structure is a unique gridded configuration of innovatively designed concrete shells that formed both the structural support for the roof garden as well as the soil repositories crucial for sustaining a vegetation.

The character of most of the site’s landscape came from Ronald Rayment who was inspired by Californian and Scandinavian modernism. His design ethos emphasised human comfort and the relationship between building, site and setting. He used mass planting and strong geometric lines. The path alignment, in part influenced by Mortlock, avoided axiality and the creation of a ceremonial space: a pre-existing war memorial was dispatched to the corner of the site and monumentality eschewed. Circulation was defined by a long rectilinear pool and a continuous zigzagging cedar timber slatted seat. A scheme for a bush garden (1972-3) by Ellis Stones (with Nell Rickard) was an attempt to conceal and soften the impact of the west wall of the car park where its height was at its most prominent, and coincidentally, where it abutted the Vice Chancellor’s residence. A series of terraces were formed from massive boulders the levelled spaces in-between stocked with Australian native plants.

Text adapted from an entry by Andrew Saniga in Australia Modern: Architecture, Landscape and Design 1925-1975, Hannah Lewi and Philip Goad (2019, Thames and Hudson).


Victorian Heritage Statement of Significance

The Underground Car Park is located in the heart of the University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus. The car park had been provided for in the Campus Master Plan which was prepared by Bryce Mortlock in 1970. The scheme provided a solution to the problem of too many cars on the campus whilst simultaneously providing a landscaped area above. It was designed by the architectural firm Loder and Bayly in association with Harris, Lange and Partners. The engineer in charge of the project was JL van der Molen. Excavations commenced in May 1971 and the car park was completed by November 1972. Landscaping of the South Lawn area above the car park and areas adjacent to the Baillieu Library and John Medley Building were carried out by the firm of Stones and Rayment. The Underground Car Park is constructed of reinforced concrete shells with parabolic profiles supported on short columns. The columns contain drainage pipes which allowed for the planting of the lawn and trees of the South Lawn. The east entrance contains a door from a 1745 house in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin whilst the west entrance is framed by two Atlas figures from the demolished Colonial Bank, Elizabeth Street.

The Underground Car Park is architecturally significant as an extraordinary example of a building type. At the time of its construction, no other car park in Australia was fully enclosed and concealed underneath the landscape. The vaulted form of the car park interior creates a dramatic and evocative space. The design demonstrates an innovative and imaginative solution to the mundane and utilitarian problem of car parking. Additionally, it is significant as an unusual form of reinforced concrete, but demonstrates the versatility of the material and the architectural expression that it can achieve. The car park’s appearance on ABC television as setting for a ballet sequence and its use in the internationally successful film Mad Max is indicative of the car park’s wide aesthetic impact on public consciousness. The arched entrance flanked by the Atlas figures and the addition of a 1745 door from Saint Stephens Green, Dublin represents a notable application of decorative schemes and material in construction and design.