From Creativity to Legacy – Dangar Barin Smith

Words by Hayley Curnow
Photography by Michael Wee & Prue Ruscoe
Landscape Design Dangar Barin Smith

Harnessing creative synergies between pre-eminent landscape designer William Dangar and directors Naomi Barin and Tom Smith, Dangar Barin Smith has forged a signature landscape aesthetic celebrated for its quiet brilliance, exploring depth, restraint and seasonal delight.

Being creative is all about the little victories you make along the way,” William comments earnestly. “I’ve had a very organic career trajectory, but I’ve always been focused on service and legacy.” From humble beginnings working on cattle stations to jobs in labouring and lawn mowing, his charisma, talent and perseverance saw him slowly develop interest and skill in landscape design. “I would drive around the suburbs to find new builds, then call the builders and ask, ‘who’s doing the landscaping?’,” he laughs.

With mentorship from the likes of former Belle Magazine editor Eric Matthews and landscape designer Marcia Hosking, William gradually built his reputation in landscape design, launching his eponymous practice in 1991. “I’ve learnt my craft by having the privilege of working with many creatives across a range of fields,” he reflects. “I want everyone that works for me to have the same opportunities.” These preoccupations underpin William’s masterful direction of Dangar Barin Smith, where, alongside directors Naomi Barin and Tom Smith, he has crafted some of the country’s most iconic landscapes while instilling a sense of opportunity and endorsement in his team.

Naomi Barin’s background in horticulture and landscape design and Tom Smith’s experience in large-scale civic projects, diversifies and enriches Dangar Barin Smith’s evolving approach to landscape design. “While we each have our own unique style and skill sets, we share an overarching aesthetic which is critical to good design outcomes,” says Tom. The synergetic relationship between directors has positioned Dangar Barin Smith as leaders in the field, crafting striking contemporary landscapes that tactfully respond to context and skilfully combine foliage, texture and form. “Our projects are plant rich and layered in an unfussy, balanced way,” observes William. “I like my gardens to look elegant and calm, not over-designed.”

“While we each have our own unique style and skill sets, we share an overarching aesthetic which is critical to good design outcomes.”

Embracing an approach centred on simplicity and quality execution, Tom believes the most enjoyable aspect of his role is responding to spatial compositions. “We consider how to best activate and relate landscape to built form as well as the wider natural context,” he reflects. This approach is evidenced in works such as Homage to Oscar, which frames the sweeping modernist lines of the 1962 George Reeves residence (recently updated by Luigi Rosselli Architects) with lush, verdant landscaping, and Barangaroo House, whose cascading exterior planting accentuates the tiered architectural form and Green Star credentials of the development.

Naomi encourages an intuitive approach to design: “Sometimes a whole concept stems from a single existing tree on site or a feeling you get from a certain space.” Her interest in the seasonality of gardens allows certain areas of the landscape to shine at different times, while her horticultural knowledge sees the company combine unexpected plant species to stunning effect. “As a practice, we aim to use plant combinations that complement each other but are not necessarily limited by style or geographic origins; an olive tree and a kentia palm originate on opposite sides of the world but are both beautiful trees in Sydney that complement each other through texture and tone,” she explains.

Underscoring every project is a quiet minimalism that Tom believes “is the purest form of design.” This is well evidenced in Surry Hills Rooftop, an inner-city oasis for Adam Haddow of SJB, which William admits “exceeded all of our expectations.” Large Vitrocsa doors open the interior to a native verdant landscape combining ground-cover, floating water lillies and an evergreen tuckeroo tree as a focal point, with a minimalist custom barbecue and tandoor oven by William’s brother company, Robert Plumb.

William is keen to carve out further opportunities for Dangar Barin Smith to explore larger, more restrained architectural landscapes, citing the works of American landscape architect Andrea Cochran as a key source of inspiration. “We are pushing our practice into some other areas with selective hospitality projects for committed clients who engage talented architectural and design consultants and some larger multi-residential projects for clients with a sound commitment to high quality landscape outcomes,” he reveals. “We are also keen to explore collaborations with lesser-known emerging architecture firms.” A key driver for William in achieving these aspirations is succession planning. “I encourage my team to develop their own client base and style with mentorship and support,” he says.

“Sometimes a whole concept stems from a single existing tree on site or a feeling you get from a certain space.”

From Creativity To Legacy – Dangar Barin Smith Issue 05 Feature The Local Project Image 16

William suggests this approach is perhaps not widely shared in the industry, observing a slower rate of new business development in landscape architecture and design compared to architecture and interiors. “It creates a sort of bottleneck in the industry, where there’s really not enough choice in the top end of residential landscape design – it’s something I hope will change.”

With a generous and authentic spirit, William has indeed cultivated an aspirational and inclusive culture for Dangar Barin Smith, with Naomi and Tom attributing William’s enthusiasm in their development as a key tenet of their industry skill and enjoyment. Holding true to William’s mantra, Dangar Barin Smith has carved a reputable presence in the landscape industry with an enduring design legacy. With characteristic humility, William comments: “Each project has built something special, not for our practice but for the clients themselves.”