Oxford Street, the main road through the upmarket Sydney suburb of Paddington, is best known for its eclectic mixture of funky, creative and sophisticated boutique shops showcasing the finest in Australian fashion and design.

It’s also where you will find one of Sydney’s most stunning urban renewal projects – the Paddington Reservoir Gardens.

During the mid to late 19th century, this reservoir was an important water storage space for the city of Sydney. But by the beginning of the 20th century, as the city’s population outgrew the site’s water carrying capacity, the reservoir was decommissioned and the site became a government storage utility site and then a service station.

But when sections of the roof collapsed in the 1990s, the building fell into disuse and soon became just another derelict, graffiti covered site that attracted feral cats and winos.

Today, thanks to a City of Sydney restoration project, the Paddington Reservoir has become an oasis of calm for locals looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street.

From street level, it looks like just another green space.

But peer over the edge and it’s immediately clear that this is anything but just another green space.

Meditative gardens, a lake of contemplation that pays homage to the site’s original use as a water reservoir, flower beds, and shaded seating amidst industrial steel skeletons and brick archways. Overall, it gives the illusion that you could be in a Romanesque sunken garden or on the grounds of an Italian monastery.

But it’s not all green.

The covered eastern chambers, with the original wooden pillars and stone walls, have been left as is, providing a blank canvas ‘cultural precinct’ that is used for the occasional market, art exhibitions, and film festivals, as well as ongoing graffiti.

It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of the old, the new, and the green.

(photos @Liz Lewis 2013)

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.