Tonsley Innovation District Urban Design & Public Spaces

About the Entry

A set of robust urban design protocols provided guidance to the implementation of projects over a number of years, rather than a fixed design program or traditional master plan.

The influence of a coordinated, sustainable public realm is now being realised. Australia’s first innovation district now supports green infrastructure and its importance for future planning.

Features & Benefits


The vision and strategy guides the life of the project

The urban design strategy (Tonsley Urban Design Protocol and Guidelines led by Oxigen) is conceived not as a fixed master plan, but as a “development palette”.

The project will evolve and unfold over time. Tonsley’s unique characteristics are beginning to demonstrate how integrating strategic thinking and design as early as possible in the planning phase of a project can lead to exemplary design outcomes.

The project vision is embedded within the urban design framework – low carbon and climate resilient infrastructure, technology and systems that will demonstrate innovation in public space, governance and delivery models & partnering.

The public realm has been designed as a ‘gel’ that holds the site together.

Realisation of the urban design strategy

The well considered urban design approach has established a robust framework and a pathway that directs future planning, architecture and public realm design.

The projects developed to date (by Oxigen) include the Main Assembly Building (MAB) forests, MAB lighting, MAB floor and foyer carpets, the Tonsley streets, external plazas and spaces, retaining walls, MAB town square, wayfinding, public art and bespoke furniture – all have carried through this urban design agenda realising a project of consistency, high quality detailing, site relevance and environmental responsibility.

The realised public realm to date makes a significant contribution in defining Tonsley as a known, distinctive and exemplar place.

Addresses contemporary, social and cultural issues and site history

A rich layered history: The Tonsley site is unique–an 11 hectare sawtooth roof amid a much bigger site, formerly the Chrysler and then Mitsubishi car factory. Before that, one of SA’s earliest agricultural farms.

The values built into the public realm design reference the rich and significant layers of cultural and social (employment) heritage of the site whilst promoting innovation that surpasses best practice.

The elements of design illustrate the importance of interpreting the site’s pre-European, agricultural and manufacturing heritage whilst expressing a new future as an innovation district of Australia. The urban design has been a strong contributor to expressing the character and richness of this place.

Creativity and cultural expression

A sophisticated public art strategy was developed which both engages and enriches the site’s history of car manufacturing and agriculture, and enforces a socially and culturally sustainable focus.

Items from the old manufacturing plant were retained for public art and interpretation opportunities, including repurposed steel from the existing MAB trusses 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 Hawke.

The public realm as a place of high exchange

The establishment of partnerships with industry and key stakeholders from early stages has helped to create ‘buy in’ for the project vision. Education and research are cornerstones of the Tonsley masterplan. These institutional partnerships have been catalysts for bringing other research based (including global) businesses to site.

The new population generated from these partnerships means the public realm is now a place for students to rub shoulders with business, resources and technology industries.

The table tennis tables within the retail core are constantly used and might see the Siemen’s general manager competing against a Flinders University computer science student.

Contributes to a wider appreciation of urban design

In planning Tonsley, a Site Wide Built Form Development Manual and site-specific Urban Design Protocol were developed to ensure all building and site developments adhere to the sustainability and liveability vision for the site – and in doing so have set new benchmarks for sustainable urban renewal of brownfields sites in Australia.

Tonsley has been designed in a way to support an economic climate for years to come.

The State Government has been willing to invest more in quality infrastructure, products and solutions to achieve whole-of-life costings with an increased long term benefit.

Tonsley supports healthy and active living and social cohesion–a place for people.

Demonstrates excellence in functionality, aesthetics and viability

The design team’s approach was to build on the existing layers of site heritage and retain the MAB.

Raw concrete materials, including corten steel, timber and concrete, are used consistently to reflect the existing MAB concrete floor and open steel truss roof structure.

‘Cut out’ sections of the roof allow for a series of internal forests to be inserted into the existing industrial structure, allowing the landscape to emerge from the framework.

The open section exposes Adelaide’s incredible blue skies and helps to ‘breathe’ the MAB.

The Central Forest is now open for meeting, relaxation and discovery. Misting trunks not only animate the central forest as a distinct place, but also contribute to climate control.

Key Sustainability Design Features and Benefits

Tonsley is the first in Australia to be awarded 6-Star ‘World Leading’ Green Star Communities Certification, recognising the project’s commitment to sustainable outcomes in a mixed-use development. This design approach supports an economic climate of the state for years to come by creating increased employment opportunities and affordable living.

Retaining the MAB, has not only provided an activated hub at the heart of the community, but has ensured Tonsley is a world-leader in emissions reduction.

Internal forests provide provide beautiful natural spaces to enjoy, at the same time capture carbon and purify the air. Green infrastructure initiatives are embed including LED lighting, WSUD and integrated transport.

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Tonsley Innovation District Urban Design & Public Spaces