The Dirt: Daniel Baffsky

Perhaps landscape architect Daniel Baffsky first had an inkling of his true calling whilst running through fields of canola on his family farm in Junee as a child? Or maybe it hinted to him whilst climbing mountains in South America after quitting his job in finance? Regardless of where and when the seed of his future career first made itself known – what started as a sapling has grown into a broad canopied tree – nurtured by a strong vein of creativity and a deep curiosity about the relationship between humans and the natural world.

‘Plants make people feel good,’ says Daniel as we wander through a rooftop garden designed by him and his team at landscape architecture studio 360°. Part of the Kinghorn Cancer Centre in Darlinghurst, Sydney, the garden is a multifaceted space – one where patients gain respite from treatments, doctors share good and bad news, and families reconnect during incredibly stressful times.

The garden is warm, inviting, and slightly wild – complete with exuberant papyrus framing a slick water-feature, yellow ligularia flowers hanging out over the timber deck, and a vigorous clump of walking iris marching across a raised garden bed. Threads of Daniel’s evolving conversation with plants are woven amongst the textured trunks of a clump of Betula nigra at the centre of the space, whispering of connection, healing, and hope.

This garden illustrates what draws me to Daniels work – his openness to experimentation with plants, and the importance placed on them within the framework of a design. Many landscape architecture projects end up with a very restricted palette of greenery – the same old suspects that will most likely survive but often don’t inspire. Daniel mixes it up, using plants in unexpected combinations and ways, and plenty of them.

Our studio philosophy is always to start with a canvas of green and cut out only what is needed for access and functionality.’

‘It’s never about great volumes of hard landscaping; it’s about creating an immersive green space. That’s what makes people feel comfortable,’ he says.

Daniel is clearly at ease surrounded by plants and immersed in the landscape but, as is often the case, the pathway he followed to the career that is most suited to him was a winding one.

After finishing high school Daniel studied economics at Sydney University. ‘I followed the flock and did something that was safe,’ he says. From there, he ended up in public relations, then corporate finance and merchant banking. He soon realised he needed to change. ‘It just wasn’t for me, that world,’ he says.

So, he quit the suit and took to exploring. ‘Whilst travelling I found I was drawn to landscapes more than cities and architecture,’ he says. ‘Basically, I went to all the big mountain ranges of the world, and immersed myself in as many amazing landscapes as I could.’ Inspired by his trip, and fuelled by his re-kindled love of nature, Daniel went off to Christchurch in New Zealand to study landscape architecture at Lincoln University.

His first employer on returning to Sydney was Jamie Durie, also my first boss! In Jamie, Daniel found someone from whom he could learn the practicalities of creating and building gardens, not just designing them. ‘Working for Jamie was an amazing experience. He’s a force!’ He says. ‘Not many hardcore designers would want to acknowledge it, but the reality is Jamie helped change the face and understanding of landscape design in Australia.’

Armed with a passion for plants and landscape, and with the experience of working with Jamie Durie under his belt, Daniel started 360° in 2001. Since then, Daniel and his small team have worked on an incredibly diverse set of projects: from hospitals to high-end hotels, residential gardens, learning institutions, multi-unit residential developments and more. Think Plantbank at the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan, the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern, the Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills, the Millennium Institute at Westmead, and The Hermitage – Justin Hemmes’s home in Vaucluse. One common thread weaving through all these projects is plants:

It’s always about making an oasis,’ Daniel says. ‘We always try to find a way to envelope people with plants.’

Exciting, soothing, and enveloping people with plants is a collaborative process at 360° – both in the design process, and the client dialogue. ‘It’s always been really important to foster a sense of collaboration within the studio,’ Daniel says. ‘Most projects go on the table for everyone to contribute to. We all share and influence the project in our own way.’ This approach extends to the way Daniel and his team work with their clients. ‘I hope if people are looking through our work, that most of it isn’t recognisable. It’s more important that the work is reflective of the client and the brief, rather than have our stamp on it.’

‘It’s clear Daniel loves his work, and for him, the reward is not professional recognition, how great the design may look in pictures, or an incredibly refined construction detail. It’s the feeling a landscape evokes that Daniel is after. ‘I don’t want to hear someone say: ‘Wow, I really love the way you designed that bench!’ I mean, that’s nice but what I really want someone to say is: ‘I love how this garden makes me feel.’ That’s the most important thing.’

And the fast track to creating evocative landscapes? Plants. Of course. ‘I just love plants. I don’t know why, but I do. I love learning about them, I love they way they change, and the way they surprise. They make people feel good,’ Daniel says. ‘What I’m trying to do with plants in my work as a landscape architect, is to create spaces that resonate on an emotional level.’

View more projects from 360 Degrees Landscape Architects on their website.