Image Credit : Jialing Mew (Chas Clarkson) and Katrine Mardini (Outhouse Design)





Project Overview

In an Australian first, a Christmas experience like no other, "Santa’s Secret Garden" brought the outdoors indoors, with a one-of-a-kind and unique, living, breathing Santa set installation. Santa’s Secret Garden took visitors on a journey through Australia's favourite landscapes, from the beach to the bush, through a large glow worm cave containing over 250 live plants and tall gum trees. An innovative, forward-thinking project with community and sustainability at its heart.

At the heart of the concept was the driving notion to engage and educate younger visitors about nature, as well as unifying and reigniting the memories many Australians have during the lead up to Christmas - family & school holidays and nostalgic summertime adventures in and amongst our beautiful diverse landscapes.

So in an Australian retail first, the 859m2 tiled court was repurposed into a breathing visual stage to promote a sense of family and joy via a reconnection with nature.

While this in itself is provocative, the design strategy incorporated the opportunity to give back. The campaign raised awareness and funds for three incredibly important AMP nominated charities, as well as connecting with the centre's primary community by donating plants to local schools, parks and community spaces.

Visitors from across the state and Australia were captivated by this world-class living Santa set. So much so, that visitor numbers increased by 56% compared to the previous year.


AMP Capital Shopping Centre


Chas Clarkson:
Tim Clarkson (Managing Director), Jeff Reingold (Account Manager), Andreas Zehntner (Creative Director), Karl Grassl (Design Manager), Georgie Corkett (Industrial Designer), Ainslie Asher (Industrial Designer), Mikayla Austin (Designer), Gerard Ryan (Production Director), Lucie Sekaninova (Production Coordinator), Tracy Martin (Core Production Manager), Gary Lucey (Bespoke Production Manager, Densan Obst (Project Operations Manager), Cameron Lyons (NSW Installation Manager), Amy Levinson (Project Manager), Adam Walker (Supply Chain Manager)
Outhouse Design:
Katrine Mardini (Senior Landscape Architect), Steve Warner (Principal Landscape Designer)

Project Brief

The brief was far from simple - “We want you to reinvent and bring to life a truly Australian Santa experience like no other!"

The Macquarie Centre Marketing Team handpicked a collective of collaborative cross-discipline design teams (Outhouse Design, Chas Clarkson, Outside Space & Alpine Nurseries) to deliver an innovative, immersive Santa experience with a truly unique installation that was media-worthy and would deliver a massive social & traditional media buzz. A living, breathing Australian festive garden.

The brief stipulated strict criteria around immovable installation times, weight loading restrictions and longevity of design. The set needed to be installed over a maximum of 3 nights. As the set was being built in a void directly over another void, we needed to ensure that the total weight mass of the set (including all soil, plants and water) didn’t exceed 500kg per square meter. Finally, for the 8-week duration of the campaign, it was vital that the set remained looking like a living, breathing garden: fresh and full of vitality. All plants had to be easily removable during the installation period to ensure the garden looked in full bloom at all times.

As this garden needs to be reborn every year, material selection and sustainability were key. In essence, the design approach was similar to that of an infinite show garden using materials that offer longevity and a flexibility in planting display.

Project Innovation/Need

This was a one-of-a-kind collaboration between multiple Sydney-based suppliers including landscape architects, manufacturers and Christmas specialists. This eclectic group of specialists designed, built and installed this unique temporary installation.

At the heart of the “Santa’s Secret Garden” concept was the driving notion to engage and educate younger visitors about Australia’s natural environment. By bringing the outdoors temporarily indoors, a visual platform was created through which visitors to the set could be immersed in a visual, educational, sensory experience about their native habitat.

Design Challenge

The most complicated part of the project was working with living plants, bringing them into an artificial, air-conditioned environment during the height of the Australian summer, and ensuring they survived for the duration of the 8-week installation. All the while, making sure the plants could be easily removed from any part of the garden and easily swapped with a replacement from the plant hospital.

The plants needed to survive inside the modular set which could break down into smaller components for transportation, allow easy access to the plants for watering and possible replacement, whilst also being waterproof and damp proof. The set contained many electrical elements, including a feature LED fishpond complete with pond-life sound effects and an illuminating glow worm tunnel. Keeping these electrical elements dry with so much water in the set was of paramount importance.

The physical set was designed and built within an 8 week period, so time constraints were also a major factor.

With all the logistical aspects considered, planting the garden was also a challenge. Like any garden the planting needed to feel natural, but without a ground planting option. Plants had to be selected on individual merit such as colour and form. However, group composition was also important so that when on set and dropped into a pre-cut hole, the layering and positioning would be in likeness to that found in its natural setting.


Macquarie Centre’s “Santa's Secret Garden” program, delivered by Chas Clarkson in collaboration with Outhouse Design, was produced by a local network of suppliers who are all striving to lower their carbon footprint and ethically source their manufacturing materials. All the decorations within the suite of decorations can be broken down and stripped into their various base materials (such as PVC, timber, plastic, etc.) and be recycled.

Macquarie Centre’s “Santa’s Secret Garden” was an Australian first for the AMP Group’s 2030 Real Estate Sustainability Strategy ‘green’ initiative. This innovative and “outside the tree thinking” resulted in the final design reducing the environmental footprint of a traditional Santa set by 30%.

To ensure that the plants used within this set will continue to benefit the environment and community, Macquarie Centre auctioned off the plants with all proceeds donated to charity. Macquarie also gave each child that had a picture with Santa a bark chip. By placing their bark chip in their chosen charity's container, the child cast their vote for donations to go to one of the following charities: Need for Feed Disaster Relief, Drought Angels and the Koala Hospital. A beautiful way to ensure that Santa’s Secret Garden is the gift that keeps giving every year.

After the installation, the Macquarie Centre donated the larger trees and plants to their wider community of local schools, nature reserves, parks and public spaces, ensuring the spirit of the project lives on and truly benefits the wider community.

This award celebrates innovative and creative design for a temporary building or interior, exhibition, pop up site, installation, fixture or interactive element. Consideration given to materials, finishes, signage and experience.
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