Design Competitions and the “Design Dividend” in Central Sydney

Good design delivers a variety of public benefits. The so-called “design dividend” links these benefits to positive financial uplift for property interests resulting from superior design. But what happens when competitive design processes enter the picture?

200 George Street, Sydney (Developer: Mirvac). Resulting from a design excellence competition won by architects Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp, this commercial project was completed in 2016. Its advanced sustainable design features has seen it secure high environmental ratings: 6 star Green Star – Office Design, 6 star Green Star – Office As Built; 5 star NABERS Energy and 4 star NABERS Water.

An Australian Research Council-funded project led by researchers from UNSW Sydney and the University of Canberra is examining the City of Sydney Council’s Competitive Design Policy. This policy uniquely requires major private projects in Sydney’s CBD to undergo a design procurement process based on jury-based evaluation of alternative designs. A discretionary floor-space bonus becomes available for achieving “Design Excellence” via this route.

With this policy now in operation for 15 years, roughly 40 major completed or approved projects in Sydney’s CBD have successfully come through a competitive design process. This provides a unique opportunity to examine the potential of good design – and, particularly, competitive design – to lift the bar for both public and private interests. To arrive at an overall assessment of the value-add from these arrangements, the team’s research draws from Council records, interviews with built environment professionals including developers, architects and planners, fieldwork, and examination of industry judgements of the outcomes.

Although the team echoes previously identified difficulties in defining and quantifying the benefits of design excellence, there is evidence to largely substantiate a consensus in perception that Sydney’s competitive design policy has generated significant public and private benefits in aesthetic, functional, design and sustainability terms. Notably, the policy has diversified and elevated the field of architectural firms participating in designing Central Sydney, and has established common ground for Council staff, design experts and developers to work collaboratively towards better outcomes.

Securing design excellence through competition emerges as an innovative regulatory approach to help ‘bridge the gap’ between public and private interests in the design and development of the city.

For more information on this ongoing research project, visit the team’s UNSW Built Environment research page.

Authors: Professor Robert Freestone (UNSW), Ms Sarah Baker (UNSW), Dr Gethin Davison (UNSW), and Dr Richard Hu (UC)

 

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