Darling Harbour Children’s Playground

  • Photo Credit:Property NSW.
  • Photo Credit: Property NSW.
  • Photo Credit: ASPECT Studios and Florian Groehn.
  • Photo Credit: ASPECT Studios and Florian Groehn.
  • Photo Credit: ASPECT Studios and Florian Groehn.
  • Photo Credit: ASPECT Studios and Florian Groehn.
  • Photo Credit: Property NSW and Craven Images.
  • Photo Credit: Property NSW and Craven Images.
  • Photo Credit: Property NSW and Craven Images.

The Darling Harbour Children’s Playground has transformed the public experience of Darling Harbour, creating a new destination for families that offers play experiences to the widest of demographics. A key driver was to provide opportunities for the young children through to teenagers to play, and for the playground to integrate with its surrounds. This project is an example of a new genre of leisure precincts, which meets the broader community needs, attracting families to stay for long periods of time.

Description of project

The Darling Harbour Children’s Playground and the neighbouring leisure precinct at Darling Quarter is one of the largest free family entertainment attractions in Sydney. The 4,000-square metre area is comprised of public open space, and challenging play equipment for infants through to adults, as well as an interactive water play area which features streams, jets, pumps, switches, and water wheels.

The leisure precinct is part of the larger Darling Quarter redevelopment, a $500 million place making project that has transformed the public domain of Darling Harbour. The new mixed-use precinct integrates the playground with world class commercial buildings, new city pedestrian connections, a 3,000-square metre retail terrace, cafes, restaurants, bars, grassed community areas, and a 300 seat children’s theatre. The project is Australia’s first illuminated night-time playground, attracting young adults from nearby offices, shops and restaurants to play on the giant swing or 21-metre flying fox. The Village Green (North and South) are two community green spaces of approximately 1,100 square metres. This provides important public open space which is utilised for a wide range of community activities, small sized activations and events. 

Project Features include:

Water play area, with specialised interactive equipment

- Challenging playground with play equipment such as the ‘Big Slide’, 'Jumbo Swing’, ‘Octanet’, flying foxes and rope climbing

- Table tennis

- Phone fit bikes

- Toilets, café and shade structure

The popularity of Darling Quarter Playground has exceeded the developer and land owner’s initial expectations, resulting in the maintenance plan and budget to be significantly altered and increased to meet the high volume of weekly visitors. While the hard-wearing finishes of the play equipment were designed for wear and tear, other features such as the specialised water-play equipment may wear more quickly due to overuse and materials such as sand and mulch requiring regular top-ups. The popularity of the Playground and its seamless integration into the broader Darling Quarter Precinct, demonstrates how this project exemplifies successful urban renewal and placemaking in an urban context.


Project team
  • Property New South Wales (includes the former Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority)
  • Lendlease
  • ASPECT Studios
  • Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp (FJMT)
  • David Eager
  • Hyder
  • Waterforms International
  • Deuce Design
  • Speirs + Major
  • Arup
  • SJB
  • Ramus Illumination
Project cost

$10 Million

Health value

- The playground features an array of fun activities that promote learning and imagination for all ages. Water games, climbing ropes, swings, slides, and a flying fox engage children and encourage outdoor play. Innovative features such as the balancing ropes and Octanet provide challenging physical opportunities and assist with developing agility and strength.

- There are no fences around the playground, rather landscape, seating and level changes are used to define the limits of the play spaces, an intentional design feature to encourage adult participation and interaction.

- The Village Green features ‘phone fit bikes’ to allow users to recharge their phone batteries while pedalling. There are a variety of bike designs and pedal lengths for all shapes and sizes.

- The provision of table tennis amenities is a popular recreational activity.

- The precinct is well connected to public transport, and is a short walk from Sydney’s Central Business District via a new civic connector. 

Economic value

- The project exemplifies sustainable design excellence, creating an inclusive, free, public open space used by the community day and night. It has been visited by millions of families and tourists since opening in September 2011.

- There is a high level of return visitors and the high use of the leisure precinct draws customers to the nearby shops, cafes and bars. 

Environmental value

- Synchronised water jets, switches, lock gates, water wheels and boulders contribute to the overall experience and allow children to immerse themselves in understanding the cause and effect of water movement.

- The use of timber elements, sand, mulch and water have created a space that features natural materials in a predominately built environment.

- Trees and understory plants include indigenous, native and exotic species. An aromatic variety of flora were planted to attract natural fauna such as butterflies and birds.

- The precinct utilises energy efficient lighting and sustainable water practices. Rainwater is harvested in a 300,000 litre storage tank and distributed throughout the public domain for irrigation.

- The project utilised salvaged brick pavers, sandstone and trachyte stone as feature elements, as well as recycled site concrete as the drainage layer under soft-fall and base material under paved areas. 

Social value

- Property NSW provides moveable public seating and rugs, to encourage visitors to comfortably enjoy the public open space and socialise with family and friends.

- The playground was the first illuminated play area in Australia, with feature lighting to create a night-time ambience. The mood lighting makes the precinct a pleasant place to visit in the evening.

- Restaurants and shops facing the leisure precinct are open until 11pm, creating a safe environment through passive surveillance, which helps to minimise after dark anti-social behaviour.

- Interactive water play equipment including a series of switches, valves and pumps encourage children to participate and socialise with others.

- The leisure precinct provides amenities for a range of diverse visitors and community members. From young adults and families picnicking on the weekend, to professionals playing a round of table tennis after work, to children navigating the climbing ropes of the Octanet, there is something for everyone. This diversity encourages families and visitors to foster social connections and enjoy the public open space. 

Use value

Darling Harbour Children’s Playground has re-shaped the southern end of Darling Harbour into a functional, attractive and sustainable precinct. It has been visited by millions of families and tourists since opening in September 2011. Darling Harbour Children’s Playground is the largest in the Central Business District, providing much needed recreational facilities and public open space in an increasingly dense urban area. The revitalisation and integration of the playground into the broader Darling Quarter precinct, provides significant value to visitors and residence of the vertical metropolis and assists with creating a sense of place.