Category: sym.posium

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.

The Warriewood Valley is a rapidly changing urban release area full with residential subdivision. The sector contains typical examples of both design success and failures.

Given our four current subdivision projects in the Warriewood Valley (and our office location) we felt it was time to really get to know the area in detail and the varying standards of development.

Sym Cycle Tour

On a hot 28 degree day the Sym team (complete with helmets and high visibility vests) started our cycle tour through the Warriewood Valley. We collated our observations from the day to produce 6 urban design considerations that apply to all residential subdivision projects.

Warriewood Valley Snapshot Do’s & Don’ts

  1. Placemaking/Visioning

Do However small or large a development – Placemaking (including a vision statement) is a great tool to provide a clear design intent for all consultants to work towards. Placemaking establishes the unique ‘essence of place’ and ‘x factor’ of your site.

Don’t expect your consultants to seamlessly coordinate without a clear project vision.

Value A vision statement ensures continuity of design ideas across consultants as well as creating a strong community identity that buyers can relate to.

  1. Involve a Landscape Architect from the beginning

Do Bring a professionally qualified Landscape Architect into the team from the very beginning. This is when our capabilities are best utilized. We provide Placemaking, Site Masterplanning, and Lot/Building Location. Landscape Architects looks at the site as a whole – to consider the local and regional context, site constraints, grading & drainage (based on slope), vehicular /cylceway /pedestrian connections, entry sequence, identity signage and open space amenity planning.

Don’t have consultants working independently and in isolation. Don’t finish the site design and employ a Landscape Architect at the end to “shrub it up” (or do – but you’re missing out!)

Value Early involvement of a Landscape Architect ensures quality urban design outcomes and a holistically well-considered development.

  1. Property Frontages

There is a fine balance required to ensure frontage consistency whilst still allowing for owner ‘personalisation’.

Do ensure consistency of verge setback width, property levels & grading, wall and fencing locations, height and width as well as letterbox locations and dimensions. Individuality between properties should be created through materiality choice of the above elements and planting design.

Don’t Give complete design free reign to each property owner – the development will lack design cohesion and street appeal.

Don’t make all the design decisions for the owner – the development will lack character.

Don’t situate the properties too far from the road or too close to the road. Too far inhibits social engagement and too close isn’t pedestrian friendly and doesn’t make for an attractive streetscape.

Value a well considered property frontage encourages social interaction between residents, enhances street appeal and salability and helps create a strong community identity.

  1. Treat storm water requirements as an opportunity rather than a constraint:

Do Employ a Landscape Architect to sensitively consider stormwater initiatives.

Don’t treat stormwater as purely an engineering exercise.

Value A sensitively designed bioretention basin can serve as a much needed visual amenity, raingardens and swales can create unique and beautiful streetscapes whilst also working to improve water quality. Well considered WSUD practices can reduce the need for hard infrastructure as well as adding aesthetic value.

  1. ‘Back of house’ streets:

Do consider garage access, garbage storage and collection points from and early stage.

Do consider walkability and how to create pedestrian friendly streets

Don’t consider garbage collection and storage late in the piece – it will look like an afterthought and often results in an unattractive design outcome.

Value Offline secondary streets at the rear of properties are a great way to hide garages, bin storage and ‘back of house’ street uses. This separation creates consistency in frontage appearance aswell as pedestrian friendly streets.

  1. Invest in the landscape:

Do consider both long-term growth as well as day one impact. Plant establishment takes time.

Dont undervalue the impact of the landscape. We understand your budget/design requirements and will strategically consider the placement and impact of the landscape – especially around entries and display suites.

Value Well considered planting design can provide privacy screening, shade, create a sense of arrival, determine sightlines and views and create beautiful spaces that residents value and want to use.





A prospective client recently asked us when to use a Landscape Architect vs. a Landscape Designer and what is the difference.

A generalised & quick answer to this question would be – scale; Landscape Designers tend to deal with site specific and predominantly residential projects whereas Landscape Architects deal with a broad variety of projects that range from residential to urban and regional in scale.

We could elaborate on the above answer to mention the immense differences in our professional training – but for the purpose of this article let’s accept the limited answer of scale as the main point of difference between professions. If so – this then provokes another question of what is the difference in professions and services provided when working at the same residential scale? ­Specifically:

When to use a Landscape Architect vs. a Landscape Designer in a small-scale residential setting?

To answer this question the Sym team went to a long lunch at Bayview Marina (intrinsic to the thinking process we assure you) and hashed out our apposing & shared opinions on the topic. We also contacted a number of professional colleagues for their input on the topic.

It should be prefaced that we are a team of Landscape Architect’s who drew from our understanding of Landscape Design the best we can – there are always exceptions to the rule and in the interest of providing a definitive answer we have used generalisations. We encourage future discussion and the development of our initial findings.

Our answers for determining the selection process fell into the following categories – Site Context & Planning, Horticulture and Ecology, Design & Management & Price.

Site Context & Planning:

In general our degree training means that Landscape Architects are better equipped to understand the site within its wider context. We are trained to look beyond the extents of the property boundary; to consider issues of locality (social, cultural, environmental & geographic), strategic planning and legislation & the interface with surrounding properties (visual & physical grading).

An architect & colleague believed the main difference lay in approach, that “Landscape Architect’s look at the opportunities and possibilities to think outside the boundaries”.

Horticulture & Ecology:

In general the degree training means that Landscape Designers are better equipped in horticultural knowledge and design.

A certificate IV in Horticulture is a prerequisite to study Landscape Design. Horticultural studies of a Landscape designer provide a thorough understanding of plants, agriculture, soil, pests & diseases, maintenance, weed control, irrigation & turf.

The majority of horticultural knowledge of a Landscape Architect is gained through years of experience rather than tertiary education. Landscape Architects do however; have a thorough understanding of larger ecological and vegetation communities – but lack the detail horticultural knowledge by comparison.

Design & Management:

Landscape Architects have an extensive education in both the history of the landscape design traditions as well as contemporary design theory. Landscape Architect’s also study architectural theory and building styles to design landscape that are architecturally responsive. Furthermore, registered Landscape Architects are required to achieve a level of CPD (Continued Processional Development) points each year to maintain registration thus ensuring that we are up to date with our design knowledge and skills.

The diploma of Landscape Design has more of a practical focus without the extensive theoretical background offered in Landscape Architecture. Landscape Designers gain majority of their design theory through experience and self-study rather than through formal education.

The relevancy of this theoretical knowledge to a residential project would depend on the client expectations, architectural design, scale and landscape significance.

Landscape Architects are well equipped to design and coordinate large structures including shade structures, pavilions, decking, pools and retaining walls. A Bachelor of Landscape Architecture includes technical subjects and electives and/or interdisciplinary subjects within the Built Environment that develop skills in structural design.

A lot of landscape design companies offer both design and construct. This combined company can be beneficial for a client who is looking for a quick turnaround. Design and build practices can thoroughly consider the practical construction methods as well as respond better to changes on site and last minute decision-making.

Landscape Architects are often involved in the management of landscape construction, which is usually carried out, by an external landscape contractor rather than a subset of the same company. As a result of working on large-scale projects Landscape Architects constantly interact with a variety of consultants and often play a leadership role within the project consultancy team. We can offer project management as we have a broad understanding of the roles and responsibilities of other disciples to ensure an integrated and well-considered design outcome.


The truthful and first answer of an architectural colleague on the difference between a Landscape Architect and Landscape Designer was “Price”.

In general the price of a Landscape Architect hourly rate is higher. This is a reflection of the higher degree of professional training, variety and standard of services provided and level of insurance they must hold. For a small-scale residential project this increase in up-front cost for a client is harder to justify.

Who’s most suitable for your project?

In general there seems to be a many areas of overlap. Both professionals are qualified to address issues of drainage, grading, materials, planting & material choice and in the end the decision will come down to the wants of the client.

For residential landscapes that require complex grading, project management, working with a team of consultants, significant planning controls, has a high flora & fauna impact, high visual impact or requires significant architectural/structural design we would suggest the use of a Landscape Architect.

For residential landscapes that require predominantly ‘soft’ (planting) design, design & construct capabilities, a very quick turnaround or is working to a particularly low complexity we would suggest the use of a Landscape Designer due to their extensive horticultural background and specified skill set.

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