Oxigen team, Travis Wright (centre)

Travis Wright | Oxigen

Date: 27 Sep 2017
Profile: Oxigen
Category: Success Stories

In the lead up to FAD (Festival of Architecture and Design) running 5-8 October, Well Made spoke with Travis Wright, Design Director, Urban Designer and Landscape Architect with Oxigen. Having recently won the 2017 Good Design Awards for Tonsley’s public realm, receiving ‘Best Overall’ for Sustainability and Architectural Design, Oxigen continues to create social, liveable and sustainable spaces.  

Can you tell us about the Tonsley Park Redevelopment.

This is a long-term project that is now gathering good momentum becoming a unique place that is genuinely valued for its approach towards innovation. Oxigen has been involved since 2010, working with Renewal SA to establish a vision for the site. Before it was a manufacturing hub for Mitsubishi and Chrysler, it was one of Adelaide’s earliest significant agricultural farms. 

The approach to transforming this site has looked to interpret the rich layers of heritage and endeavour (pre-European, agricultural and manufacturing), then expressing this in a way to support an open and collaborative environment that is Australia’s first innovation district. State government has developed the site to align with strategic objectives and the 30-year plan to create a mixed-use urban development that attracts innovative and high value industry to South Australia. 

Following the master plan stage, an Urban Design Protocol was developed to establish a series of ‘flexible’ guiding principles that allow the site to mould into place over time. This type of development is unique for South Australia, which is a challenge in itself – some of what is happening out at Tonsley hasn’t been done before. A complex project like this needs to be able to adapt and respond to social, economical and sustainable needs. The site will continue to evolve, combining industry, education, commercial, retail and residential sectors. The open green areas, including the forests within the former iconic factory structure, are key to creating sustainable and healthy spaces for working, living or just hanging out.

What makes it an award-winning project?

There are several factors that make Tonsley a successful project including a ‘flexible’ design framework that provides guidance for development to occur in a coordinated way into the future. Sustainability and innovation are also key contributors to the project’s success. Embracing new technologies with the surrounding environment including waterways and existing building fabric have been instrumental in achieving this. 

An extensive ‘Cultural Heritage Report’ was developed for the site and this provided us with clues on how to transform a past agricultural and manufacturing site into a meaningful mixed-use community place with squares, plazas, parks and streets. Acknowledging the communities that have existed on the site is important and we very much wanted to cultivate this sense of community and belonging.

What are Oxigen’s principles for sustainable design?

Our approach to sustainable design is holistic where environmental, social and economic sustainability are all equally as important as each other.

For the public spaces at Tonsley, there has been a focus on water sensitive design, LED lighting technologies, use of sustainable materials and use of local manufacturers and artists. A sophisticated public art strategy was developed to enforce a socially and culturally sustainable focus. Items from the old manufacturing plant were salvaged and retained for public art and interpretation opportunities, including repurposed steel from the existing MAB trusses which were incorporated as wayfinding totems. Some of the fabrication has been done by ex-Mitsubishi workers now working within the local industries. Large existing trees removed during new works were also retained and later sculpted into iconic bench seating in collaboration with local artist Gray Hawk.

The new pod buildings underneath the old main assembly roof are intentionally transparent and on display for public viewing. This is to show what is being created at the site. It’s about opening up and celebrating the industry and innovation, so the public can see what’s happening, whether that’s robots being made or activities such as the Mini Maker Faire.

Collaboration is important for Oxigen, how has the Tonsley project enabled collaboration between the team?

It is such a complex site with a bold vision so a multidisciplinary approach has been essential in bringing it all together. In order for the site to be read as a whole, we’ve collaboratively worked very closely with engineers, architects and numerous other experts and specialists. It’s a curated public realm - bringing the vision and processes together, to ensure that the many parts create a cohesive whole. The redevelopment has received a ‘world leading’ 6-star Green Star Rating which is an Australian first for this type of development. Everyone on the team contributed to making this happen.

84 Halifax is a very different scale to a project like Tonsley, what has been the approach to transforming the space?

The original structure was used by the previous occupiers as an office, which was very enclosed with no natural light. So the site was gutted and we very much responded to the space and materials that were revealed during this process. It’s definitely a ‘made’ and ‘crafted’ building rather than a built building. This iterative approach saw design being done on a daily basis until completion - with a lot of input and collaboration with the builders on the spot.

James Hayter (Oxigen’s Director) likes to think of it as a ‘laneway building’, which complements and expresses the neighbouring spaces, including the streetscape. It has a raw aesthetic, exposing and celebrating the structural materials of the original brickwork and stone -  nothing is hidden and detailing is honest. Our approach was to fit a building into the street that was timeless; enhancing the emerging character of Halifax Street and contributing towards the cultural identity of the wider neighbourhood.


What design and architecture is exciting you at the moment?

I always enjoy all forms of design like good industrial and graphic design. I appreciate things that are thought about and have a real purpose. I also enjoy analysing spaces. It’s important in what we do as landscape architects to look for cues in why a space works or doesn’t work, what makes it comfortable and what makes a place you want to come back to – what makes a special place.

I admire the way Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson uses elemental materials such as light, water, and air temperature to capture people’s sensory imaginations. His approach is also one that appreciates the importance of context and beauty in design. I’m also a big fan of contemporary Japanese architecture, particularly the small projects that show great use of materials and detailing – it’s very honest, gentle and appropriately slots well into a big city like Tokyo.

Locally, there is far more public awareness and appreciation for design and the value it can bring to our city and our everyday lives. There is a new wave and strong sense of community amongst recent graduates, which is exciting for the future of our profession.

What’s next for you and for Oxigen?

We always have a good variety of projects in the office from gardens to streetscapes to big complex urban design projects like Tonsley or strategic projects in Canberra. We are working on several regional projects that are designed to assist tourism and grow the economy of these country townships. These Initiatives include national park trails, revitalising public spaces, waterfronts, streets and refreshing key assets within the towns such as their town squares or meeting places – it’s about making these towns desirable to live, visit and do business. 

We are also working on several education projects where there has been the focus on creating different types of learning environments based on how people interact, learn and teach. There are also a lot of rooftops across Adelaide. People are wanting to retrofit rooftops to make them usable green spaces in line with the values of green infrastructure. All of these projects reflect Oxigen’s key values – to re-create spaces and places that people want to be in – we want to contribute to making our cities sustainable, interesting, healthier and liveable.


Oxigen will be guest speakers at Tonsley Smart City: The future of Live Work Play during Future cities: 2017 Festival of Architecture and Design as part of Open State. Architects, futurists, innovators, social scientists unpack, discuss and debate what is next for Tonsley Innovation District and our Future Cities. 

Friday 6 Oct 2017, 3:30-4:30pm at Open State Hub, Victoria Square. Free entry, register here.

View Oxigen’s full profile on Well Made.


Images: (banner) Oxigen team. Travis Wright, centre - 5th from left. Photograph courtesy Oxigen. Images (top to bottom): Tonsley forest and community spaces. Photographer Dan Schultz & Oxigen; Tonsley green space with outdoor furniture by Gray Hawk. Photograph by Oxigen; 84 Halifax Street courtyard, Photographer Dan Schultz; 84 Halifax Street drawing by Oxigen; 84 Halifax Street rooftop courtyard. Photographer Dan Schultz.