Hortus is here

The Harbour Esplanade glasshouse finally opened its doors late last month.  

Onlookers have been watching the construction of Hortus, as the glasshouse is known, since August last year and last month their patience was rewarded.

Already, locals and visitors have been visiting the site and gathering on the communal tables and landscape installations that surround the structure.

Conceived as a temporary activation project, Hortus is the brainchild of Utopian Folk, a collaboration between Folk Architects’ Christie Petsinis and Tim Wilson and Utopian Slumps’ Melissa Loughnan.

The group has been working on the project more than two years, having been awarded a Place Victoria contract to activate the site in January 2012.

“We wanted to make something that was able to be activated in different ways and used by a wider range of people,” Ms Petsinis said.

Hortus features a café, operated by Seven Seeds (to the delight of local coffee fiends) a horticultural art installation by artist Lauren Berkowitz and a communal outdoor space.

According to Ms Loughnan, the plant installation was a way of bringing both art and greenery to the space.

“It’s our way of bringing art and culture into the site. Rather than just plonking down a sculpture or something that’s static, it’s something that evolves and is alive,” she said.

Ms Loughnan said there would be more planting on-site and the group also hoped to work with the installation artist Lauren Berkowitz to run children’s planting workshops or similar, highlighting the intended community use of the space.

“We’d really like it to be activated by events and different cultural groups and community groups to be able to use the space,” she said.

According to Mr Wilson, the space is very flexible, lending it to a range of different purposes from events, to a day-to day gathering site and café.

Originally Hortus was intended to open in September 2012 but a series of delays hampered efforts to get the project off the ground.

Delays were put down to difficulty obtaining a permit to operate on Crown land, the original café operator backing out, and a reliance on in-kind assistance for the design and construction.

"Hortus was realised through the generous in-kind support of our many project partners, who shared our vision for Harbour Esplanade," Mr Wilson said.

The estimated cost of the project was $540,000, with $310,000 of that estimate provided through in-kind services.

Places Victoria general manager Simon Wilson said: “Hortus was intended to be a temporary activation project that would bring people to Docklands’ waterfront, but we hope to see it become more than that.

“Places Victoria believed Hortus has the potential to become a Docklands destination, both for Docklands workers and residents, and for visitors, especially cyclists using the bike path along Harbour Esplanade.”

“Hortus will be a test of how people use and interact with Harbour Esplanade as we consider how the waterfront will be developed over the next decade.”