Author: mcgeach

Our Dementia Garden for Dementia Australia (previously Alzheimer’s Australia) at their North Ryde Dementia and Memory Community Centre has just finished construction this week.  Another success all round after our Dementia Garden in Port Macquarie last year, both gardens are “the first of their kind in Australia”!

Thank you to our great client, donors and landscape construction team at Carl Gilmore Landscapes for such a spectacular outcome. The garden is set for its Grand Opening later this month, no doubt an invaluable resource for people living with dementia and their carers.

Check out the video below to see the recently completed construction!


Alzheimers Australia has released tips for ‘How to create a dementia-friendly garden’  based on our recent research and design in dementia sensitive gardens at both Port Macquarie and North Ryde. The design thinking is also reinforced by the findings of Dr Theresa Scott, NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellow at The University of Queensland.

The article lists helpful design considerations when designing for:

  • Colour and contrast
  • Signage
  • Accessibility
  • Therapy & Socialisation
  • Sensory experience

Our Dementia Garden for Alzheimer’s Australia in Port Macquarie Dementia Friendly Garden was recently featured on ABC News, Port Macquarie and NBN news and mentioned as “the first of its kind in Australia”!

You will also see a video of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW chief executive officer John Watkins who performed the official opening and said the garden will be an invaluable resource for people with dementia and their carers.

Read the news stories below:

  1. ABC News – ‘Garden designed to trigger memories in dementia sufferers opens in Port Macquarie’
  2. Port Macquarie News  – ‘Alzheimer’s Australia NSW dementia-friendly garden opens at Port Macquarie’
  3. NBN News – States First Dementia Friendly Garden Opens 



Our latest work as ‘alliance partners’ to Alzheimer’s Australia NSW on designing their Port Macquarie Dementia Friendly Garden was recently featured by Cultivate NSW as part of their winter issue on ‘Dementia Awareness’. The sensory garden will be used by people living with dementia, their carers and their families to promote physical, emotional and psychologial benefits through a range of tailored dementia sensitive experiences. Once the garden opens in August we will provide you with the full run down on the design thinking behind this one of a kind garden.

Read the Cultivate NSW article here 

Sym Studio are thrilled to have our work for Avalon Beach Place Vision featured as a Case Study in the inaugural issued of ‘In Place’, an innovative online magazine published by Place Leaders Asia Pacific. The inaugural issue is titled ‘Connected in Place’ and showcases the variety of disciplines involved in the ever evolving identity of ‘Place Leadership’ and inspires us in imagining what the future of our places could be.

Read the full article here

The Avalon Beach Cultural Mapping Project is focused on celebrating and documenting Avalon Beach’s rich cultural assets and at the same time providing a tool for future planning and development. This innovative project includes a Youth Mapping Project that provides Barrenjoey High School students from years 9 and 10 a voice in the cultural planning process and a unique opportunity to work with local artist mentors to create artworks to be showcased at Avalon Market Day 2016.

The project will build upon the Avalon Beach Vision and ensure future planning acknowledges the rich cultural and creative diversity of Avalon Beach.

This grass roots initiative is hosted by Eramboo Artist Environment, supported by Avalon Preservation Association and coordinated by a small team of professional volunteer locals with in-principle support from the Northern Beaches Council. Volunteer sponsors are Sue Boaden Cultural Planner, Sym Studio, Martin McCallum Producer, Simone Jarvis Real Estate and Kay Richardson of Young Gourmet.

Avalon Beach Youth Youth Cultural Mapping Poster pdf

Avalon Beach Vision document pdf

Are you getting the most out of your waterfront position?

Our team has compiled a succinct list to show you how to maximize access, reduce maintenance, express a unique style and navigate the approvals process. As part of our research the team took a boat trip around Pittwater to collect a photographic record and demonstrate some of the most important aspects of designing a home on the waterfront.

Our Top 4 Design Considerations
  1. Development Application Considerations
  • Neighbor Interface. Study the boundary implications of your proposed works. Privacy, shade, drainage and views are critical factors to consider for your property as well as the neighbors. Early consultation can aid in favorable neighbor relations during the approvals process. To mitigate the development impacts consider boundary wall and fencing step-downs that are sympathetic to neighboring views.
  • Protect Existing Native Vegetation. Value existing vegetation as an asset rather than an inconvenience. Whilst widened water views might be alluring – large established trees provide much needed scale to the site and compliment the built form to ensure the building appears situated within its surrounds. (Not to mention the provision of local habitat and strict council controls)
  • Re-Habilitate & Re-Vegetate. Refer to the endemic vegetation community that is naturally found on your site as a useful indicator of what plants will be well suited for the site conditions and provide appropriate habitat to attract local wildlife.
  1. Slope Stability & Access

Waterfront properties typically have significant grade changes to access the water.

  • 3:1 angle of repose. This rule of thumb is the steepest grade achievable without slipping.
  • Maintenance. Consider the level of maintenance required for different landscape areas and how they will be accessed e.g access for equipment such as lawn mowers.
  • Water Access. Use the waterfront transition as an opportunity for an experiential journey. Meandering paths and landings can take advantage of key viewpoints as well and provide for rest spots and entertaining spaces. The treatment style will also have a visual impact when viewed from the water.
  • Inclinators. Consider access both to and from the water. Inclinators can be a very functional solution to the practicalities of a waterfront lifestyle but keep in mind the associated council requirements for 2 meter offset from the boundary and practicalities to achieving access to a mutli-storey property.
  1. Boat Sheds & Watercraft storage (Amenities & storage)
  • Storage. Consider your storage requirements. Water recreation equipment such as surfboards, paddle boards and kayaks can take up valuable waterfront space and appear untidy if not pre-considered.
  • Amentity. A Boat shed can also provide guest accommodation and complete the picture of the ultimate/quintessential Pittwater waterfront.
  1. Materials & Style
  • Plant Pallette. Choose hardy species with an ‘almost native’ plant palette. Using predominantly natives with a few feature exotics will achieve council BASIX requirements and ensure the landscape responds well to the front line salt laden winds that come with waterfront properties. A well considered plant palette can ensure your landscape endures the test of time and thrives rather than suffers in the harsh waterfront environment.
  • Materials. Incorporate materials that compliment the local context such as stone and timber. Consider the longevity of materials, how they will endure constant exposure to the elements and how the sites grade change/verticality will be interpreted when viewed from the water. The repetition of large retaining walls and intensive staircases can result in a harsh design outcome. A ‘soft touch’ to the landscape treatment with natural boulders, sloped walls that work with the topography, semi transparent balustrades and lightweight staircases/structures can improve visual amenity, user experience and aid in favorable council approval.

In 2013 a group of community leaders got together as the result of a conscious concern for the future of Avalon Beach and its surrounding areas. The group includes representatives from 12 community organisations including Avalon Palm Beach Chambers of Commerce, Avalon Preservation Association, Avalon Surf Life Saving, Avalon bowling club, Pittwater Natural Heritage Association, CAPRA and North Ward Councillors.

Sym Studio tailored a place making process to discover what is it that everyone loves about this place. The facilitation process translated the thoughts and ideas of the 12 community groups into an informing vision document that reflects the ‘essence’ of Avalon Beach, guiding future planning and development of the local area. The grass-roots initiative is potentially one of the first of its kind in NSW and an empowering move for the Avalon Beach Community.

Avalon Beach Placemaking PDF


The NSW Government is reforming NSW Strata Titles Act in the first major reform since 1973. It is anticipated that the new laws will commence on July 1st, 2016. (

Amongst others, changes will include those to the default Stata By-laws to state that pets are allowed, provided that the strata committee approves.

Current Strata By-laws include three options:

A – Pets allowed on approval by owners’ corp (except fish)

B – Pets allowed on approval by owners’ corp (but cannot be unreasonably refused)

C – Not pets allowed

New Strata By-laws will include only one option:

Pets allowed on approval by owners’ corp (but cannot be unreasonably refused)


This change will impact buildings that use the basic by-laws recommended by Fair Trading. Older buildings that have established by-laws as well as new buildings that write their own by-laws will not be impacted. But for the many buildings that just go with the basic by-laws recommended by Fair Trading, you can have a pet unless the owners’ corp has a very good reason for saying no.

The reforms will affect some 2 million industry professionals, strata owners, and residents in strata-titled townhouses and units. (


Attract a greater diversity of buyers

According to the Petcare Information and Advisory Service (PIAS), more than 60% of Australian households enjoy the companionship of a pet. There is a real opportunity for pet friendly apartments to capitalize on this market shortage and attract a larger target market of potential buyers.

Competitive Marketing Angle

In America and around the world there is a huge trend developing for luxury living apartments that cater to pets. “Where it used to be differentiating just to take pets at all, now to be competitive, many buildings feel they need to provide a full service of pet amenities” says Carey Armstrong, (director of rentals at real-estate company Zillow)

Whilst we are yet to see this new pet design focus really take off in Australia – the 2016 By-law change will likely change the way we design for apartment living. The first signs of the trend can be seen in Melbourne’s new Garden Hill Luxyry Apartments in Doncaster to include an off-leash dog park (set for completion 2016). Over 80 percent of the 136 one- and two-bedroom apartments in the project have already been sold, which the director of Beulah International’s linking to the popularity of the dog-friendly design. (

Save (animal) lives

One of the biggest reasons (RSPCA indicates more than half!) that pets get surrendered to shelters is the inability for existing pet owners to find pet-friendly housing when they move. More pet-friendly housing means less surrendering, more adoptions and less animal dying in shelters.

Improve wellbeing

As any pet owner knows first hand the joy that comes from having a pet. Studies have found that the therapeutic health benefits of owning a pet include lower rates of depression, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. (



  • Designing for pets, like any amenity, will incur extra upfront investments and maintenance costs. Some buildings add insulation between walls and floors to muffle pet noises (particularly barking), grooming rooms and rooftop dog parks. American models show that expenses are recovered with special pet fees. For example – At City Market in Washington there is an additional deposit of $500 for one pet and $800 for two, and the monthly fee is $60. Says Joel Regignano, City Market’s general manager, “The income we get is far more than the cost to maintain or clean up after pets. It’s absolutely a good return on investment.” (

Option 1 – Private dog areas:

  • Ground floor apartments can be designed with dog friendly garden areas.
  • An emerging American design trend sees the provision of “pet decks” in some newly built luxury apartments equipped with artificial turf with a sprinkler system that cleans, sanitizes and deodorizes.

Option 2- Communal dog areas:

  • Apartment living ‘dog parks’ can be a real design feature and selling point of an apartment.
  • Design considerations include waterproofing, drainage of porous artificial lawn and sprinkler systems, security, surveillance, shade, noise, maintenance and space requirements.
  • Ideally within the park – a variety of spaces or activity zones should be created to offer a range of play opportunities. In larger areas, distinct zones for small and large dogs can be delineated.

Sym. Studio Director, Conrad Grayson presented at the 15th ICTC Conference and 5th National Mainstreet Australia Conference in Wollongong last month.

The conference “People, Places and Partnerships Creating livable & lovable places” called for a range of expert speakers to talk on the latest developments in urban design, opportunities and trends, place making, retail, planning, development, project management, main street marketing and management.

Conrad’s talk addressed the shifting nature of leisure and free time as a result of changing social demands.

Key Points

  1. As towns and cities densify (horizontal + vertical), the quantity of ‘leftover’

space is compromised and demand for its use increases.

  1. Greenspace previously used for passive recreation becomes programmed for active recreation.
  1. The leftover ’Greenspace’ (incl.waterways) are required to fulfill a more specialised ecological function.
  1. Specialised ecological habitats conflict with full scope of human recreational pursuits.
  2. ‘Open space’/Passive Recreation must become an integrated component of the everyday urban environment – ‘Urban Openspace’.

Sym determined six integral components that allow a space to realise its passive recreation potential. We applied these components (traditionally confined to greenspaces) to a main street, laneway & plazas to re-imagine the spaces as integrated ‘Urban Openspace’.

Using Avalon Town Centre as a case study – this approach to design and rejuvenation creates spaces that attract and engage both the young and the elderly to promote inclusion, health & economic prosperity.

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