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


Christchurch Rising – Landscape Driven City

Following on from the 2015 X-Section article Reimagining a City: 21st Century Landscape Architecture and the paper given by Mike Thomas at the 2015 6th Liveable Cities Conference titled Reimagining Christchurch City’s Post-Quake Public Realm: The Influence of 21st Century Landscape Architecture on the Rebuild, Mike posited that it is the work of landscape architects that will most consistently influence the appearance and social and economic success of Christchurch’s new post-quake public realm in the rebuild.  The following is a brief update on progress.

Mike Thomas

Christchurch is unique in New Zealand. Following the 2011 earthquake, it has started over. 70% of CBD buildings have needed demolition, services under the street have needed reconstruction and the city is now in a slow-but-steady state of rebuild.

A positive outlook of a city ‘beginning again’ has been the opportunity for the government to engage with the city and put in place an infrastructure rebuild using principles defined by its people. Cantabrians have asked for a green, walking, cycling city with public transport.

City planning has zoned the CBD into ‘Frames’ according to the activity of the district (e.g. innovation, health). A focus has been applied to developing the public realm and streetscape and so landscape architecture is playing a dominant role in shaping the character of the city centre – an evolutionary shift not a wholesale changeover.

This South Frame project consists of 20,000m2 of mid-block lanes and plazas across seven city blocks on major arterial routes in the city (Tuam/St Asaph and Madras/Antigua Streets). It’s part of a wider ‘Accessible City’ project which consists of 75,000 m2 of streetscapes containing 250 new street trees and 4,000m2 of rain gardens,   developed by a consortium of Jasmax, AECOM and LandLAB. South Frame’s construction began in 2016 and is now approximately 20% complete with work now proceeding at full pace.

A 12 metre-wide, 700 metre long, heavily planted Greenway collects, slows and treats storm water runoff with almost 3,000m2 of rain gardens. Designed as a setting for a creative new mixed-use precinct, connecting the Innovation and Health Precincts, the Greenway is a canvas for cultural expression in partnership with Ngāi Tahu; the local Māori tribe. A theme of this greenway is a “Story of Stone”, which features backlit pounamu (Jade/greenstone) pavement inlays, basalt laneways and boulders. The Greenway will be a venue for social activation and a safe movement corridor, particularly attractive to inner-city living and working.

The layout for the Greenway owes much to Canterbury’s beautiful braided rivers, pixelated to align with urban geometry. Local tree species, Kahikatea and totara, will rise above the buildings as future sentinels to help navigate the city centre. Ethno-botanical plantings with historical value to Ngāi Tahu will be planted, with identification tags.

Separated cycle-lanes and shared surfaces will enable safe cycling through the city, and connect to a regional cycleway network, the Peloton. Architecturally iconic Super Stops (for buses) are being fabricated, ready to play their part in a three-fold increase (by 2041) of public transport movements.

Construction of these projects is in full swing with a significant portion built by 2018.

By Mike Thomas, Principal, Jasmax 

Future forecasting: landscape architects might save the world

By Naomi Stead, The University of Queensland

I predict we’re going to hear a lot more from landscape architects in the coming years. There has long been a misunderstanding about what they actually do – “something about gardens” being a common response.

But the diversity and scale of work in landscape architecture is huge, and the mix of skills and expertise required shows real promise for dealing with the pressing issues facing Australian cities. Whether climate change or urbanisation, population growth or densification, landscape architects have ideas for how to make our future cities liveable, workable and beautiful.

All this was under discussion in Brisbane earlier this month at Forecast: the Inaugural Festival of Landscape Architecture, presented by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) at the State Library of Queensland – where the winners were also announced for the AILA National Awards, pictured here.

Forecast was an inspiring event. As an outsider, albeit from the aligned field of architecture, I thought I knew exactly what landscape architects did. But I was wrong.

It turns out landscape architects are everywhere: working from the scale of a tiny green roof, to city-wide green infrastructure; from the remediation of a massive outback mine site, to the design of an inner urban “pocket park”.

Adelaide Airport Project: a collaboration between Taylor Cullity Lethlean, Woodhead Architects, Dryden Crute Design, Bluebottle.
Forecast, photo by Ben Wrigley

Of course, they don’t just work on projects, they also work on policy, and they are key figures in community consultation and engagement. This was one of the main themes of the festival – that the diversity of work undertaken by landscape architects goes way beyond “capital D” design.

The festival was a deliberate turn away from conventional industry conference formats – creative directors Sharon Mackay and Di Snape, advised by Dr Catherin Bull AM, set out to “blow up the conference model”, abandoning keynote lectures in favour of “a series of conversations about the future of landscape architecture”.

Collaborating with the living world

Surprisingly, it can be controversial to talk to a landscape architect about plants. A few years ago, it seemed the profession was doing its best to abandon vegetation altogether – many of the universities stopped teaching plant knowledge, as they moved towards a largely design-based education. To this day horticulture remains a touchy subject.

Nevertheless, landscape architects have today re-embraced plants – in the context of a holistic approach to natural and artificial ecosystems. They engage not just with the plant, but the soil and water and air and climate and everything around that plant. This also includes the human, social and cultural context.

To my eye, the unique perspective of landscape architects comes from this ability to balance ecological and built systems – mediating between the soft and hard elements of the city, and the natural and constructed environment more broadly.

Landscape architecture is always already collaborative. It works with “materials” that have a life of their own, and designs with all the phenomena of the living world. When your design “collaborator” is a water table, or a soil ecology, then you will always need to allow for the inherent changeability of that.

Taylor Cullity Lethlean with Tonkin Zulaikha Greer won the 2014 Australian Medal for Landscape Architecture for the National Arboretum Canberra Masterplan.
Forecast, photo by John Gollings

Your design will also be interdependent with other systems, and influenced by circumstance and sheer chance. You might know roughly how big that tree is going to grow, but its exact form is impossible to predict in advance, and only partly controllable with pruning or maintenance.

Working under these conditions mean that landscape architects are better placed than many other built environment professions to cope with uncertainty and change, and to renounce the expectation (or the fantasy) of the designer being able to exert total control over materials, places or people.

The call to green infrastructure

In the past, landscape architects have often not been part of large-scale urban decision making processes – they have been engaged down the line as consultants, designing specific, small parts of a much bigger urban picture. Think paving and bench seats or, as one participant dryly suggested, “arranging the parsley”.

But as Forecast made clear, landscape architects are agitating to take on a much greater strategic role, to push their way to the decision-making table and bring design expertise to bear at a city-wide or region-wide scale.

The Greater Curtin project. Andy Sharp, Director of Properties Facilities and Development at Curtin University who spoke at Forecast, is charged with bringing this to life.

This scale of work is often described as green infrastructure. We might all be familiar with older forms of “grey infrastructure” such as roads and railways, power grids and networks of garbage collection. But landscape architects are challenging traditional ways of dealing with water, waste, energy and transport – the circulatory systems of the city.

Instead of channelling rainwater runoff into a sewer system, for instance, landscape architects are looking to capture and reuse it on site in green rooves, or let it seep through permeable paving into the soil.

Likewise, a city that has a network of interlinked open spaces pleasant to walk in encourages “active transport” and reduces the need for car and public transport infrastructure.

Plants save lives

Increasingly, science-based research is revealing a connection between the work of landscape architects and larger public health imperatives.

Vegetation helps to reduce the effect of heat waves (saving lives), the shade of tree canopy ameliorates urban heat islands (saving power), access to vegetation, fresh air and daylight improves the speed of recovery of hospital patients (saving inpatient time), and the provision of quality public open space encourages active commuting (saving the need for car transport).

All of these things also, needless to say, save money.

Revitalising Central Dandenong: Lonsdale Street Redevelopment, by BKK Architects and Taylor Cullity Lethlean, won the 2014 Urban Design National Awards of Excellence.
Forecast, image by John Gollings

Landscape architect Deiter Lim, who spoke at the festival, described the new Royal Adelaide Hospital project, which he predicts will be “Australia’s best hospital, by far”, where the model of care is based on patients’ access to fresh air, natural light, tactile surfaces, and plants.

Here landscape architecture becomes central to the project. This is not because of a rarefied idea about “design”, but because it is integral to the model of care. It will save time and money, and most importantly it is best for people.

So landscape architects are experts in certain design measures that can increase public health, productivity, wellbeing, and quality of life. Perhaps more importantly, they can increasingly argue this in terms that politicians and bureaucrats can understand – they can play the numbers game.

Landscape architect Penny Hall demonstrated this at the festival showing an aerial view of a park noting the dollar value of each tree – calculated in terms of carbon dioxide capture, temperature reduction, property values, and so on.

We might be dismayed at this empirical approach to something as unquantifiably beautiful as a tree. But Hall’s point is this: when seen as an environmental asset, a tree can be entered into the metrics and calculations – and especially the economic markers – that govern the management of the built environment.

Making more than just ‘adequate’ public spaces

There was a real sense of mobilisation at Forecast, of rallying to the cause of a more sustainable world through landscape architecture.

But within all this, the highlight for me was from Pamille Berg AO, the Canberra-based public art consultant, who had a call to action of a different kind – to make special places, “not just adequate places”, and to remember the “long now” of responsibility over centuries.

Berg argued that “we must remember that our public space projects are not mute”. They can give a message either about “thin-ness” and “mean-ness” and “a valueless approach”, or they can speak about “the essential public values of empathy, compassion, inclusion, and the sheer exhilaration of wonderful creative making”.

Berg’s eloquent contribution was a kind of still point in the midst of the festival’s swirling energies and passions. It was a reminder that looking to the future must be done with one eye on the past.

The festival ended with a well-deserved standing ovation for the creative directors.

Naomi Stead has received funding from the University of Queensland, the University of Technology Sydney, the Swedish Institute, and Arts Queensland. She currently receives funding from The Australian Research Council. She is an affiliate member of the Australian Institute of Architects. Naomi was a speaker at the Forecast festival, in the session on ‘Design Narratives and Profiling Practice.

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

Street Party! Car no longer king

The Prospect Road corridor underwent a $3.4 million upgrade. Photo: City of Prospect

Landscape architect Lisel Ashby (Registered Landscape Architect, Jensen Planning + Design) recently presented a conference paper at the 7th International Urban Design Conference titled Street Party – How Innovative and Integrated Transport and Urban Design is Producing Results in Adelaide’s Streets. This is a great follow up story – congratulations Lisel.

A pedestrian-friendly approach to urban design is transforming some of Adelaide’s streetscapes into thriving community and commercial hubs.

Landscape architect Lisel Ashby told a recent urban design conference that a tough business environment had helped force a rethink about the role of city streets.

“Traditionally, a street was defined purely by its transport function,” she said.

“But I think we reached a point where we needed to take a step back and think about things a little bit differently.

“The environment on our streets was really bad – trade and retail were really struggling. I think it had reached a real tipping point.”

Since 2011, Ashby’s Adelaide firm, Jensen Planning and Design, has adopted principles contained in the State Government-commissioned Streets for People Compendium in its re-design of Prospect Road, and Leigh and Bank streets in the CBD.

Read the full story by Dan Jervis-Bardy, Indaily Adelaide Independent News, 19 September 2014.

Parramatta Green Grid

Green space is widely recognised as a key factor of liveability. While the reservation and development of green space has been a hallmark of planning world-wide, the focus of the Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney 2031 is predominantly on economic development, encompassing employment, housing, transport and connectivity between centres.

The Metropolitan Strategy predicts Parramatta to be the region’s fastest growing centre. As the second CBD in greater Sydney and with a focus on urban renewal, Parramatta will increasingly be characterised by medium and high density development. At the same time, the Strategy holds a vision for ‘balanced growth’, for Sydney to remain distinctive and inspiring and to continue to be one of the most liveable cities in the world.

Focusing on Parramatta, the Government Architect’s Office is currently investigating an open space framework to augment the Strategy, to provide open space for a growing population as well as the critical linkages required within major centres. The vision is to create an integrated network of interlinked, multi-purpose open spaces. It is through good and effective linkages to areas where people live, work and play that the benefits of green space are amplified beyond the immediate surroundings.

The challenge lies in balancing the competing demands for scarce land resources, between density and open space, between vibrant and active urban centres and access to recreation opportunities and ecosystem services. Moving beyond strategy, the framework puts policy into action. Investigating current and future deficiencies and opportunities, and working with a wide range of government stakeholders, the framework becomes an implementation plan that collaboratively and creatively delivers an appropriate quantum of quality, networked open spaces. It will ensure that future investments yield multiple benefits across areas such as public health, social sustainability, climate change mitigation, amenity, property values, leisure and recreation, ecological services and biodiversity conservation.

The 6th International Urban Design Conference welcomes Barbara Schaffer of Government Architects Office, NSW who will present this paper at the upcoming conference 9th-11th September at Novotel Sydney Olympic Park. Barbara Schaffer has been Principal Landscape Architect in the Government Architects Office since 2006. With over twenty years of professional experience Barbara has worked on a diverse range of projects in both the public and private realm. Projects include the delivery of the Parklands at Sydney Olympic Park, the West Circular Quay Public Domain Revitalisation, the Sydney Fish Market Public Domain Revitalisation and the Meeting Place Precinct at Kamay Botany Bay National Park.

Would you like to attend Barbara’s presentation?  If so, register to attend here.  Or attend any of the other multitude of sessions being delivered at this year’s event entitled “UrbanAgiNation” urbanisation | agitation | imagination examining the Liveability, Productivity, Affordability and Efficiency of our Cities.  You can see the entire program here.