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Preserving the Past, Investing in the Future – New National Herbarium of NSW

With over 1.4 million plant specimens at a value of more than $299 million, the National Herbarium of New South Wales holds Australia’s largest botanical collection, including over 800 specimens collected by botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander on Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific in 1770.

The Herbarium collection provides a vital link to ensure the survival of plant species and a wealth of knowledge to help build more resilient ecosystems for future generations.

Updating the outdated

The Herbarium has been located within the Robert Brown Building at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney since it was constructed in 1982. The building’s declining environmental controls are placing the growing collection at risk from mould and insect infestations, and with over 8000 new specimens being added to the collection every year, the current storage capacity will also be exhausted by 2022.

The decision was made to build a new Herbarium at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan, in south-western Sydney, integrating with existing facilities at the award-winning Australian PlantBank. The NSW Government is funding the construction with a $60 million package as part of the Western Sydney City Deal.

Due to be completed in late 2021, the new building will house the current collection, provide space to expand the collection, and incorporate state-of-the-art facilities for educational programs and developments in botanical science. The design, inspired by the seed pod of the waratah, the NSW state floral emblem, also includes energy saving features.

The new Herbarium will be united with all of the scientific facilities, programs and living collections at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Australian Botanic Garden and Blue Mountains Botanic Garden under the new Australian Institute of Botanical Science. The Institute will be one of the nation’s premier botanical research organisations, advancing fundamental knowledge of flora and driving effective conservation solutions to ensure the survival of plants, and all life that depends on them.

Aerial view of the New National Herbarium of NSW

Early Involvement Critical to Success

In 2015, the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust (the Garden) asked Root Partnerships (RP) to assist in the preparation of a detailed business case outlining the need for a new Herbarium facility. This followed our work with the Garden on the delivery of The Calyx at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.

After the NSW Government confirmed funding for the new Herbarium in 2018, RP’s engagement was extended to manage the delivery of the project.

RP Senior Project Manager Reece Mackie says that due to the staging and highly technical and complex requirements of the facility, and the fact the new building is being constructed within a publicly accessible site, an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) procurement strategy was adopted to bring in key contractors at an earlier stage than on a conventional project.

Reece explains: “As part of the ECI process we produced a Design Brief that outlined the technical and functional requirements of the new facility as well as our client’s strategic vision and objectives for the project. RP then led the tender process and design competition to ensure the winning design from Architectus and the construction approach from Managing Contractor FDC incorporated all the specific criteria for the successful development of the new Herbarium.”

For Reece, the ECI procurement route has ensured all parties have been able to manage all project risks and technical requirements while remaining within the allocated budget and maintaining the program. This has been vital to the project’s success to date, given its complex stakeholder and design requirements.

“One of the key challenges for the project is to ensure we achieve the Herbarium’s strict functional requirements, including temperature, humidity, quarantine and environmental controls, and to do that within the design parameters,” he says. “There will be six protective vaults made of thermal mass materials, for example, that will shield the botanical specimens from bushfires and other extreme temperature changes.”

“In addition, building on a live site with a public interface has meant the construction has needed to be planned very carefully,” says Reece. “The ECI process has allowed the project team to develop the Design and Construct (D&C) methods and management plans to reduce the impact on visitors, staff and on the gardens themselves.”

RP has overseen all of the early works and is now overseeing the main works contract. In addition, RP is undertaking the role of Superintendent for both phases.

Blacktown Animal Rehoming Centre. Image credit: Blacktown City Council and Sam Crawford Architects

Creating World-Class Civic Buildings in Greater Western and Southern Sydney

With a long history of delivering nationally significant civic projects, beyond the Herbarium RP is currently working on a number of other developments in Greater Western and Southern Sydney that are focussed on creating vibrant and engaging community spaces.

Recently, RP provided advisory and project management services for the development of the Powerhouse Precinct Parramatta as well as advising on the redevelopment of the Riverside Theatres and the Campbelltown Billabong Precinct.

“With State Governments and Local Councils recognising the need to adapt to the changing expectations of growing populations in Greater Western and Southern Sydney, there are a lot of interesting projects in development in the region,” says Associate Director Vanessa Weedon.

Vanessa is not only the Project Director on the Herbarium, she is also leading several local civic projects including the Sutherland Entertainment Centre, the new Blacktown Animal Rehoming Centre, as well as working on the Masterplan for the Core Aerotropolis, which will be an integral part of the new Western Parkland City.

“The importance of investing in community spaces is really coming to the fore in Greater Western and Southern Sydney projects,” says Vanessa. “From planning whole new cities to addressing community engagement initiatives, from relocating nationally significant facilities like the Herbarium to reinvigorating town centres such as Sutherland, we’re seeing a wonderful revitalisation of the region.”

“The new Blacktown Animal Rehoming Centre is an example of how placemaking principles and innovative design can be used to improve community engagement,” says Vanessa.

“The Centre, which will be the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, will redefine the experience of visiting an animal shelter, with its modern, eco-friendly and spacious design by Sam Crawford Architects creating a welcoming environment for visitors and streamlining the delivery of animal care services.”

“This will not only improve the visitor experience,” says Vanessa, “but is aimed at improving the adoption rate of the animals.”

“It’s an exciting time to be part of the built environment, working with clients as we help shape and support the development of important social infrastructure for the region.”

National Herbarium of NSW – RP case study

Australian Botanic Garden – Building a New Herbarium

Blacktown Animal Rehoming Centre – RP case study