A sample of Nick’s art
Nick Safstrom OAM (1947- ) as described by Neil Hordern, formerly of the firm EDAW:
“In a word or two as a leader, the best and still my benchmark for which I am always grateful! As a Landscape Architect – rigour and creativity underpinned by a strong moral compass. Someone who could deal with significant urban challenges and at the same time, share the marvel of often over looked cultural and environmental undercurrents. In my time at EDAW, Nick cultivated so many young landscape architects to collaborate and enjoy problem solving and in doing so operated at a level beyond their years of experience. “
Who is this man, Nick Safstrom who earned such a high accolade from a previous employee?
Nick Safstrom studied architecture and fine arts at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for six years (1966-1972), worked in that discipline for one year and then decided, as he was much more interested in landscape, that he would pursue studies in landscape architecture at RMIT (1973-1977). Nick’s design training as an architect, with the ability to mentally visualise an entire concept before he started working, certainly enhanced his landscape design practice as well.
Loder & Bayly
Nick was initially employed to establish a landscape architecture division for Loder & Bayly (L&B) a multi- disciplinary office in Hawthorn during the late 70s & 80s. It was an innovative practice with planners, urban designers, architects, sociologists, civil engineers, traffic designers and geographers, all working collaboratively under the same roof, to create strong design solutions for Melbourne and Australia. (One time an egyptologist was eagerly accepted onto staff as one who would bring innovative perspectives to the mix).
Loder & Bayly’s office work culture
Nick reflects that “Loder & Bayly had an amazing work culture. It was a very family-orientated practice with children and partners coming into the office after work every Friday night for drinks, while the children would play around the spaces of the open plan office in Power Street, Hawthorn and often head off for a Vietnamese meal in Victoria Street afterwards. If you had a birthday or won a project, you brought cake the next day! The group periodically holidayed together and their friendship links remain strong to this day. Sadly it was the economic downturn in the late ‘80’s which led to L&B being forced to close and then merging onto the engineering firm Sinclair Knight, but not before they had found a job for everyone in that practice.”
Loder & Bayly colleagues: L-R Jan Martin, Nick Safstrom, John Loder, Don Glasson, Bill Chandler, Michael Daff, Michael Read, Ian Wight.
Brown bag sessions
Nick established a weekly meeting for the whole office over lunchtime, called a brown (lunch bag) session. It became a very valuable ideas-sharing time. It could have been about a specific work project; philosophical ideas; world events; work culture; but everyone at that session was on equal parity. It was of enormous value for more junior staff to feel valued and a learning tool as well.
Master Planning for Melbourne’s metropolitan parks
One important assignment received by L&B in 1985 was Nick Safstrom’s appointment to design the master plans for all of the regional metropolitan parks around Melbourne. Alan Croxford, a visionary leader of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, observed that when most people visited national parks, their most common activity was to gather with families, have a picnic, kick a football and do a little walking. So he proposed and implemented adding a parks levy to every landowner’s rates bill, which gave the funding (via the Metropolitan Improvement Fund) to establish and maintain these important recreational spaces around Melbourne. These included Jells, Brimbank, Westerfolds, Banksia and Point Cook Coastal Parks.
His wife Heather writes: “I recall Nick walking around Jells Park directing the bulldozers to shape the ponds, which feed into the large lake in the flood plain valley, with islands shaped within it. This has become an important habitat for ibis and other wetland nesting birds and a greatly valued family recreational space for metropolitan Melbourne.”
Litchfield National Park
In about 1986, the Northern Territory Government envisioned establishing a second park project following Kakadu, to increase tourism opportunities. They wanted to open access for visitors to Litchfield, which was officially declared a national park in 1986. Loder & Bayly was engaged to do the master planning for this project. Nick Safstrom, John Wood and Jan Martin, along with others drove in through wilderness areas, with snorkels on the exhausts of their 4×4 vehicles, to mitigate the effect of mud and floodwaters, to finally access the Wongi Falls area. There on the sandy banks of Wongi Pool, trestle tables were set up to do the master planning.
They asked themselves questions such as
- which were the most important areas for development?
- sites for parking, facilities & camping areas?
- how to protect the special Horseshoe Bats in an area – with the determination that a viewing platform would be made, rather than allowing people into the gully?
Then a helicopter was flown in to give them an overview of the whole site.
This project has proved to be very successful, with high visitor demand creating the need for ongoing strategies by others to continue management to protect this beautiful area.
West Gate Bridge Park
The Chair of the West Gate Bridge Authority, Oscar Meyer, is credited with the inspiration for the establishment of Westgate Park. He wanted to create “a beautiful park straddling the Yarra River” to complement his sculptural bridge. He developed this vision soon after the completion of the bridge in the late 1970s. The federal government funded the development of Westgate Park to mark Victoria’s sesquicentenary in 1984-85.
Nick was involved with L&B and landscape architect Bruce Mackenzie OAM to win a competition with an ambitious design relying on a constructed landscape of hills and access tracks which framed and created views of the West Gate Bridge as the central sculptural feature, and with fresh and saltwater lakes as focal points. Planned features included an island visitors’ centre, as well as the planting of Australian vegetation, improvement of bird habitat and the incorporation of a narrow-gauge railway, a sound shell and sculptures. To this day this park has an active team of volunteers who continue to develop the planting and management of the park, under the banner of Parks Victoria. It is thrilling to visit this park today to see the wide variety of birds that now call this park home, only 4kms from Melbourne’s CBD.
Karkarook Park / Sandbelt Masterplan and
Lower Plenty River Concept Plan
For reports of these projects, visit https://www.parksleisure.com.au/library/ and enter keywords.
EDAW Australia – Architecture & Design
(EDAW is an acronym derived from Eckbo, Dean, Austin and Williams, the names of four of the firm’s original partners). Peter Haack has shared some background about this practice.
“The EDAW story is certainly an interesting one. EDAW Australia was a national practice of multi-disciplinary design and planning professionals covering planning, site and urban design and landscape architecture, under the umbrella of the international landscape practice EDAW.
The arrangement with EDAW came about as a buy out by Sinclair Knight Mertz (SKM) of the Loder & Bayly practice. SKM took the urban planners, social planners and the traffic engineers, but the Landscape Architecture (LA) team went to EDAW. (Jan Martin as an urban designer and urban planner went with the SKM team). EDAW was 40-50% owned by SKM at that time and SKM helped EDAW break into the Australian market. EDAW already had a strong presence in NSW.
As part of the EDAW takeover of the L&B Landscape Architecture team in 1995, Andrew Irvine came from EDAW Sydney to join with Nick and Peter Haack to form the new EDAW Melbourne practice. John Wood and Michael Erickson of L&B Brisbane became part of the Brisbane EDAW practice. After the recession of the early 1990s, the L&B team was pretty thin with Neil Hordern and Marius Brits being some of the first new EDAW recruits.”
This then led to Nick’s managing the Melbourne office and eventually all of the Australian offices of EDAW in Queensland and NSW as well as a new office in Adelaide that Nick established, (managed by John Holland) – four offices in total. It was a highly successful international planning and design firm. EDAW was eventually taken over by AECOM in 2008. Following that takeover, much of the Australian design leadership within EDAW left AECOM.
Nick returned to RMIT to join the teaching staff on a part-time basis to train landscape students in business practice.
Some significant projects undertaken by EDAW
- Nick and Andrew Irvine led the creative vision for the South East City Link Project, with technical expertise provided by Neil Hordern. They developed the landscaping plan along the South East Freeway, with the blue wavy lines on the sound walls referencing the river. Nick reflects: “I recall Neil’s frustration when contractors, rather than leaving planting space, filled the base of one of the sound walls along the freeway with concrete!”
- Many more bike paths were designed and built, linking up parklands and watercourses.
- EDAW sent Andrew Irvine, one of its landscape architects, on a world tour to visit significant waterfront developments, then together with Nick, developed the master plan for the Victoria Harbour precinct, including the stadium. Bill Chandler was also involved in this Docklands planning.
- John Wood from EDAW’s Queensland office undertook a safety audit of Ormiston Gorge in the West Donnell Ranges of the Northern Territory. He was flown in to Alice Springs, had to walk the perimeter of the pound, photographing every trip/safety hazard and note its GPS co-ordinates – so that a work team could go in later to repair them. “Landscape architecture offers such a variety of opportunities!”
- Maroondah City Council Design Service’s contract. Nick was responsible for managing the contract for three years. Works included wetlands, parklands, sporting fields and streetscapes. This was the first major local government outsourcing of design projects.
An interesting piece of advice Nick received from a mentor in the early stages of his career was to volunteer his skills to an organisation. Acting on this, over a period of 30 years he gave his time to the Victorian National Trust on their management board, to eventually become Vice-Chairman of the National Trust, alongside Simon Molesworth OAM. Nick’s particular interest with the National Trust was preserving historical landscapes. This voluntary work for the Trust, along with his leadership in the landscape architecture field, eventually earned him recognition as a Fellow of the Institute of Landscape Architecture and an award of an OAM in 2007.
One role Nick managed on behalf of the Trust was running Mooramong, a property that had been bequeathed to the Trust. Mooramong is on a working farm in the Western District of 4,000 acres, running sheep and producing crops. Nick would attend monthly management meetings with local farmers who also donated their time and advice to run the farm. What should be planted and when? How should sheep be managed and purchased or sold? Using profits from this farming activity, a large area was fenced to exclude predators to re-establish a nature reserve with habitat for Eastern Barred Bandicoots and other Australian species including the Wedge-tailed Eagle and Brolga. It was a very exciting day when the first release of bandicoots was made into the compound. For further information, enter Mooramong into the search box of the website of the National Trust, Victoria.
In 2000 while in his early fifties Nick experienced a stroke, which left him with aphasia and unable to talk or write. It’s just as well that he can draw, as all communications are now made by mime and drawing. Heather writes: “You won’t catch his wife playing Pictionary just for fun!” However the multiple skills he had developed over his lifetime have led to his enjoying his unexpectedly early-retirement with great satisfaction.
Once back on his feet he returned to painting, something for which he hadn’t had time, during his busy career. Multiple successful art exhibitions were held in their family home between 2002-2023 and his work has been sold all over the world. He still draws using his non-dominant left hand.
Until recently, he and Heather travelled with their campervan and 4×4 through outback Australia for fifteen years, spending three months each winter in very remote places, exploring beautiful landscapes, painting and exploring. A musician all of his life, he now sings in two choirs and still plays his tjembe for the Stroke A Chord choir.
So, his enjoyment of life continues, enriched by his innate curiosity and varied interests with great contentment.
He certainly deserves a place under the heading “Inspiring people”. He is an inspiration to many.
Nick in 2023, in his ‘habitat garden’, a creation 40 years in the making.
NICK SAFSTROM’S COLLEAGUES
With characteristic modesty, Nick has asked that some of the achievements of his colleagues be recognised in this narrative.
John Loder and right hand turn lanes – An enduring L&B innovation
Loder & Bayly was the first stand-alone planning firm in Victoria.. Prior to that, planning was an add-on to civil engineering and architect offices. The founding Principals were John Loder, a transportation planner and engineer, and John Bayly, a town planner and architect.
One of the important legacies left by John Loder (deceased) was to introduce the concept of right hand turn lanes. As an inspiring planner, frustrated by delays at traffic lights by right-turning vehicles, he organised a trial project within Hawthorn and following its success, this concept was run out all over Australia. It’s something we take for granted now – but what a difference that planning initiative has made to all of the driving public.
Don Glasson and Melbourne’s bike paths
Don Glasson, also a town planner and architect, joined the firm early after its inception and later became the third partner. Don played a key role in the growing recognition of cycling as a significant transport mode. He prepared comprehensive bicycle plans for many cities, towns, suburbs and regions from Cairns in North Australia to Adelaide and parts of South Australia. He carried out the first Rail Trail Policy and Evaluation work in the Victorian Ovens Valley, followed by many other trails in Victoria and South Australia. As part of the MMBW’s and L&B’s overall strategy of linking parklands throughout the metropolitan area, Don, a keen cyclist, designed many of Melbourne’s bike paths.
Nick, Natalie Grey, Peter Haack Bill Chandler Jan Martin Andrew Irvine
(Bill, Jan and Andrew are all deceased).