Landscape Architecture professors from the University of Sheffield who created the spectacular floral displays at London’s Olympic Park have been appointed planting designers for Melbourne’s new arts precinct project.

Professors Nigel Dunnett and James Hitchmough from the University’s Department of Landscape Architecture will create cutting-edge, minimal water-use plantings in 18,000 square metres of renewed public space in the heart of Melbourne.

They will work in collaboration with international design practice HASSELL and New York-based design firm SO-IL to transform the Melbourne Arts Precinct, which houses one of the highest concentrations of arts, cultural and creative organisations anywhere in the world.

The team will create an elevated park, gardens and pedestrian spaces in the Southbank area, which links 30 galleries, theatres and arts organisations with the National Gallery of Victoria, Arts Centre Melbourne and the soon-to-be-built National Gallery of Victoria Contemporary.

In 2012, Professors Dunnett and Hitchmough drew on two years of trials and research to create the UK’s largest ever man-made wildflower meadows ahead of the Olympic Games in London.

Professor Dunnett said: “The exciting aspect of the Melbourne project is that it was won largely on the basis of the planting design content: it was the distinctive element in the proposals compared to others in the competition.

“The concept of filling the site with dramatic, diverse, sustainable and beautiful planting, and then carving out spaces for human use within this planted matrix, was a hugely compelling one.

“In particular it captured the imagination of the artists, cultural organisations, and art foundations involved. It’s a reflection of something that is becoming increasingly obvious: that planting design, and the associated creation of healthy urban environments, is now taking centre-stage in major international landscape projects.”

The plantings will be designed to provide a succession of seasonal, month-by-month highlights that will mirror the changing art shows within the National Gallery of Victoria. An estimated 10,000 new jobs will be created during the regeneration project. Once complete, the arts precinct is expected to draw an additional three million people to the area each year.

Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, said that this once-in-a-generation project will reshape Melbourne’s arts heartland. “This project will bring the colour, creativity and activity that happens within our galleries and theatres outside for all to enjoy – no tickets required,” he said.

Students in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Sheffield benefit from the expertise of Professors Dunnett and Hitchmough through their lectures in ecological processes and design.

In these they stress the importance of sustainable and beautiful planting as a basis from which landscape architects can create innovative public spaces that have the capacity to both improve public wellbeing and meet the challenges of climate change.

Professor Dunnett added: “The global reputation of the Department of Landscape Architecture, as one of the few landscape architecture schools in the world – and perhaps the only one – that puts creative and sustainable planting design at the very core of its identity, places it way ahead of this curve.”

Professor Hitchmough said: “The Melbourne Arts Precinct is another major project in which planting is seen as one of the key issues in making rich and exciting public space. It is a great coup for the department to have its staff playing major roles in such world-leading projects.”