Tropical Urbanism – Supporting a City in a Rainforest

Study awarded highest honour at National Planning Awards

In Cairns, the relationship between built form, city planning and landscaping is expressed as Tropical Urbanism and is a defining characteristic of the region’s identity.

The Tropical Urbanism: Cairns City Image Study was a combined effort of Cairns Regional Council and a consultancy team comprising Tract Consultants, Follent, Peddle Thorp and local firms CA Architects and Total Project Group Architects.

3D of the Abbot Street Hotel by CA Architects

Tropical Urbanism was incorporated into the CairnsPlan 2016, which was adopted in March 2016 with the inclusion of assessment criteria for development in a number of codes and a supporting Planning Scheme Policy (The Policy) to provide additional guidance.

The Policy includes requirements for development to achieve 15% vertical landscaping and 50% shading on each façade, as well as separation and promotion narrow buildings for ventilation, increased heights and a generous street canopy to provide ventilation and shading and allow for pedestrian movement in response to tropical climatic considerations.

The policy has been well accepted by industry, winning the 2017 National PIA Award for Planning Excellence – the highest accolade for planning in Australia. This followed success in two Queensland PIA awards, including the Best Overall Award for Planning Excellence across all categories. Judges commented that “the study represents a significant contribution of tropical expertise that can be offered, transferred and adapted to suit the needs of other tropical cities, with Cairns defining itself as a leader worldwide in the area of Tropical Urbanism”.

Local Architects have embraced the policy, with several planning applications having been made under the CairnsPlan 2016 that will result in improved urban place and tropical design outcomes. This will result in enhanced aesthetics, shading, sustainability, increased landscaping in the horizontal and vertical planes and improved amenity, leaving a great legacy for planning in the City

The policy encourages designs that better reflect the sense of place and Biophilia, or connection with nature, which can energise residents and the experience of tourists visiting Cairns’ unique tropical environment.

One example is the Abbott Street hotel and apartment building by CA Architects which has been designed to explicitly embrace the principles of tropical urbanism whilst capturing the flavour of Cairns. An architecture of high canopies, filtered shadows, water play and large volumes capture the essence of the rainforest and reef, blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors. The activated street fronts, covered public spaces and landscaped edges provide a uniquely Cairns experience.

To support the implementation of the policy, particularly the provision for 15% vertical landscaping, Council intends to engage further with the building and construction industry to explore how to the policy may be further refined through guidance on species selection, vertical gardens, podium planting, and shading devices.

Cairns is currently developing a new City Centre Master Plan, which will further integrate Tropical Urbanism principles into the urban domain through a series of identified urban design projects.

The Tropical Urbanism Policy provides a framework to express the unique tropical environment on two levels; firstly by providing a physical representation of the brand of Cairns as a City in the Rainforest (where rainforest meets the reef); and secondly by ensuring that the urban domain remains climatically responsive and is a place that people want to live and visit in generations to come.

This article was kindly provided by Sophie Barrett, Coordinator Strategic Planning, Economic Development & Sustainability, Cairns Regional Council


A brief history of autonomous vehicles

A brief history of autonomous vehicles: A personal perspective on the history of autonomous vehicles in Australia (2016 to 2060) and their impact on the built environment

ABSTRACT: Dame Sylvia Crowe the great forward thinking landscape architect of the 20th Century once said “It would seem that the highway facilities must always lag far behind the means of locomotion, and we should watch carefully that the next advance in transport does not find us still thinking in terms of roads for outdated vehicles.” (1960)

With the advent of autonomous vehicles the effect on the road and street environment will be profound. Almost every geometric standard, design guide and roadside piece of furniture is there because it mitigates driver error which accounts for over 90% of all crashes. Wide lanes, large radii and barriers save people from their poor driving. Signage exists because of human navigation deficiencies. Car parks exist because we all like to park in one easily found space. Road upgrades and widening occur because we are unable to drive in an ordered regular and straight path and the act of driving is a waste of productive time. On motorways over 30m of the cross section is devoid of trees because of the dangers of an accidental swerve.

This talk will explore, from the perspective of urban design, the many small simple changes that will occur because of autonomous vehicles and also some of the more challenging wide reaching effects.

Summary of talk

This talk took a different angle to the normal discussions about driverless vehicles. It was presented as a future history looking back from 2060, on 100 years of development of the modern motor vehicle. It seemed to go down well; the audience really began to engage with the theme and asked me to explain exactly what happened in 2028! – two years out from my fictional legislative requirement for all vehicles to be autonomous in 2030.

In preparing the talk it was surprising how current plans could be extrapolated into the future. In Sydney NorthConnex and WestConnex will be complete by around 2022. The whole of the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane will be dual carriageway by 2020. Around the world many autonomous initiatives are currently taking place (self-driving taxis in Singapore, self-driving truck lanes in Belgium, self-driving experimental cities in the United States). Taking these major project achievements and advancing vehicle technology together, it seems feasible by the mid-2020s to expect a level of autonomy in vehicles – particularly trucks – and to make the most of these fully connected motorway systems and advancing technology.

With the potential lessons learnt from motorway vehicle autonomy and the benefits of lane correction and crash detection, it also seems feasible to continue the trend from motorways into the general road network.

The potential reduction in crashes (currently still in the global top ten of all deaths and over 1000 fatalities per year in Australia) could be dramatic with currently over 90% of crashes caused by driver error. Insurance companies, roads authorities, safety groups and the general community will call for the benefits of autonomous vehicles to be more widely available. It is conceivable (subject to the popularity, design and cost of vehicles) that by 2030 the Government will have to do something and some form of legislation might be put in place.

Gareth Collins
Principal Manager, Centre for Urban Design.
Project Development | Infrastructure Development

Building for happier inhabitants

Nathan Johnson of Architecture and Design reports (15 September 2014) on a recent study from a University of Queensland’s School of Psychology professor concludes that an office enriched with plants makes staff happier and boosts UFCTRBproductivity by 15 per cent.

Those familiar with the theory of ‘biophilia’, which contends that human health and well-being has a biologically based need to affiliate with nature, wouldn’t find these results all that surprising.

As the benefits of natural daylight, ventilation and green space is continually proven to improve productivity and reduce sick days in office workers, building designers are becoming increasingly aware of providing healthy environments for workers through biophilic design.

One recent and self-professed example of biophilic design is the University of Florida Clinical Translational Research Building by US-based Perkins+Will, which is also the firm’s first carbon neutral building.

Read the full article.

Modern Australian buildings are unfriendly – and here’s why

By Robert Nelson, Monash University

What makes one space adorable and engaging? What makes another unfriendly and inhospitable?

You might think that after two millennia of architectural discourse, we’d have ready answers. And not just answers but plenty of beautiful and adorable spaces to match.

Sadly, I struggle to think of Australian examples of inspiring contemporary architecture that create a beautiful space for conversation. For instance, there are few, if any, in Canberra.

But I have no difficulty thinking of examples from the past – almost anywhere in the world – whereby gorgeous ceremonial spaces have been created by handsome façades in streets with a processional rhythm, as if the architecture figuratively accompanies us as pedestrians and magically stops when we pause.

The Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. Craig Cullum
The interior of the Queen Victoria Building, Sydney. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Old buildings, from the façades of Rome to the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney, have a quality of public engagement that comes from their design.

I think of this conviviality as the social presence of architecture. The architecture not only communicates its joy in occupying space by flamboyant ornament but makes a concerted gesture to pedestrians that proposes some form of reciprocation.

The buildings look as if they want to be on the street – not as if they want to withdraw from the concourse or launch into space – and they also seem to signal that people could come together in front of or inside the building.

A New York City building on a corner that says: I want to be here. Robert Nelson

How, you might ask, does any building send out these magic signals? And if there’s a formula, why don’t more architects employ it today?

395 Collins Street, Melbourne. Wikimedia

The standard method for 2,500 years was to build the façade in a system of agreements, sometimes described as articulation.

Think of a post, which is more or less a cylinder. Ancient architects hit upon the idea that the post could be articulated in three meaningful moments which somewhat express its function: a base, a body and a head. The cylindrical shaft sits on a base, which provides the bearing upon a platform.

The same is true of the head (the column capital) which would cap off the post and prepare it for another function, propping up an entablature.

The triple agency of putting pressure on the earth, soaring upward and having a purchase on a load-bearing lintel above are all spelt out by the form. Often, the base would itself be split up into three parts; and so would the shaft and so would the capital.

All of these stages of articulation bolster one another and the whole column takes on a robust presence, where every level corroborates the muscular thrust and pressure of every other level.

Happily, the configuration of base-body-head also relates to human proportions. So the column has great presence in itself which simultaneously flatters human presence.

Any number of columns support any number of levels on this New York City building. Robert Nelson

By the same logic, a whole building composed of such columns, brackets, lintels and arches, takes on a marvellous conversational air, because each articulated member seems to have something to say in supporting another.

The architecture acquires social presence because it first socialises itself. Its members actively participate in one another’s business. Each part, by the great metaphor of articulation, is socially connected to every other part.

Talkative New York architecture – almost garrulous. Robert Nelson

I’m grafting the term “social presence” from common language, where it’s used to describe people with an outgoing disposition who signal an interest in others. This genius of reciprocation is installed in the very fabric of old architecture, where you feel looked at or psychologically acknowledged by the building that would equally address itself to every other person sharing the space.

Buildings talk to the street when they talk to themselves. Robert Nelson

Summing up the ingredients that used to make for social presence, old architecture often:

  • narrates and celebrates function in discretely articulated parts
  • makes correspondences between all elements and human proportion and
  • metaphorically talks to itself, with a conversational engagement in its very fabric.

These principles largely disappeared from architecture after the second world war, from which time many buildings acquired a weak social presence if any at all.

A New York building managing its mass: a visual formula for lightening the carriage of weight. Robert Nelson
Collins Street, Melbourne.

There’s no reason contemporary materials and modes of construction cannot economically accommodate the three principles of social presence.

It’s only a case of whether we can still identify the charms of architecture with social presence and then whether we want it or not.

Robert Nelson receives funding from the OLT.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.