A City for People: Liveable, Connected and Vibrant

This article was kindly contributed by Dr Michael Cohen, Director of City People, who will be speaking at the 2018 International Urban Design Conference, held from 12-13 November at SMC Conference and Function Centre, Sydney. 

Place Consultancy City People, recently brought together a powerful team of collaborators to tackle a Gehl “City For People” report:  architects, artists, urban geographers, historians – even the local funeral director.

Turning cities and towns upside down

I still vividly remember the first time I went to a festival in the streets when I was growing up. It was a delicious, topsy-turvy world: neighbours had brought their lounge room furniture onto the footpaths, weird and wonderful artists took over the roads and friends and strangers danced and laughed in each other’s company. That experience really hit home and I decided my life’s pursuit would be to turn the public places of cities and towns upside down with art.

Later, I literally took my art to the street and for about twelve years toured the world.  I performed a solo physical comedy show in streets, town squares, pedestrian malls and parks of towns and cities, big and small.  Often I was invited to perform by arts festivals but I would also often arrive ‘cold’ in a town and seek out places to perform where members of the passing crowd became my customers.  (Incidentally, street performers understand many of the variables of public domain urban design intimately – that is the subject of another blog someday!).

What drove me then still inspires me:  I am interested in how the quality of people’s lives in our shared public places can be changed for the better.  For me, this is most interesting when arts and cultural projects become tools for positively affecting people’s association with places that they live and visit.  It’s now been many years since I performed on the street but creating cultural life in public spaces has always been my trade:  both with festivals and performance, and also with public art and temporary urban interventions.

The Rocks Village BIzarre : photo courtesy Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority

In Australia, many of our public places are going through systemic change.  And some of this work is directly the result of Gehl team members who have done extensive work with various local government authorities.  Sydney, the city in which I live, is currently undergoing a massive transformation of its civic heart with its core arterial roadway now being opened up to pedestrians, and its congested city centre to be unknotted with a major public square.  Similarly Melbourne’s city centre has been through a huge change for the better.  It is now a peopled city whose public places now thrive and prosper – and it’s a far cry from the sparse, narrow footpaths where I tried unsuccessfully to ply my trade in the early 1990s.   So our two major cities in Australia – that house almost half of the country’s population – have had some major liveability boosts with the help of Gehl.

Gehl concept design for Sydney’s George St

The urban innovation accelerator

So it was really exciting for me recently to have the opportunity to work with the city of Wollongong and have a hand in progressing some of the recommended changes that have come about from a City for People report that Gehl developed during 2014-16.  The report assembled hard baseline data on pedestrian behaviour in Wollongong and it set some aspirational goals for how to make the city more liveable, connected and vibrant – with some short and mid-term goals for how to get there.

One of the pitfalls I’ve noticed working with local and state government authorities is that sometimes the impetus for change in our cities stalls before implementation can ever begin.  Whether it’s due to the intricacies of public-private partnerships, the capacity of internal staff or the political whim of the day, often big picture visions can rest on the shelf until they are well out of date.  However, employees of the City of Wollongong have taken an active hand in keeping the vision and intent outlined in their City for People report alive.

City People designed an Urban Innovation Accelerator for Wollongong that used the Gehl City for People report as its mandate to create citywide activation projects.  I brought together a core team of participants to work with me for twelve days:  artists, community activists, designers, urban geographers, a composer – even a funeral director.  Our mission was to devise temporary city activation projects that would bring the vision of the City for People report to life.  We used this laboratory environment to grow ideas for Wollongong that spoke to the place:  its physical character, its communities and its histories and social memories.

Urban Innovation Accelerator concept paste-up by artist Paul Gazzola & designer Ian Tran

A series of provocateurs were invited in: the city’s planners, historians, safety officers, academics and innovation workers all created a hothouse of ideas.  The core team then worked with the opportunities that Wollongong’s cityscape presented:  the bells that are still missing from the local church, the city’s disenfranchised skateboarders, the billboard marooned high on the city skyline – these elements became the creative palette for our collaborators.  They generated a series of terrific activation concepts for Wollongong’s public places that are a real fit with the place.

I can’t spill the beans on the terrific project ideas that emerged but you can get a sneak peak at the Wollongong Urban Innovation Accelerator in this short video clip. We were able to dive deeply into the aspirations of ‘vibrant and connected’ and ask for whom are we improving the city and why?  Who are the people who are not coming into Wollongong?  How can we spend money wisely so that these communities feel at home in our civic heart?  There is a whole range of short and mid-term projects that are meaningfully connected to that city.

The City of Wollongong is now deciding which of the projects it will implement but the benefits are clear.  We have a city that has seized the intent of its City for People report produced with Gehl and it’s not waiting for all the big-ticket items and planning developments to land.  It’s ready to improve the quality of its public life – and it’s happy to turn a few things upside down in order to keep that vision alive.

 

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Architecture was meant to solve the housing crisis, instead it betrayed us.

When Zaha Hadid, architect of Qatar’s major stadium for the 2022 World Cup, was asked about the deaths of hundreds of Indian and Nepalese migrant workers who reportedly died in connection with construction work, she responded:

“I have nothing to do with the workers; it’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”

The architect’s disavowal of social responsibility seems almost unremarkable today, but once upon a time architecture was driven by a moral imperative, a belief that rational, efficient buildings could provide as many people as possible with a home and even transform the world.

According to architect and theorist Rainier de Graaf, architecture has instead become a story of compromise and banal setbacks, governed by commercial interests at the expense of public good.

The profession has always been fuelled by a collective sense of grandeur; young architects graduate with what de Graaf describes as near-megalomaniacal ambitions, omnipotent fantasies of being able to, quite literally, construct the world. The reality they encounter, however, is far more prosaic.

“It’s often considered an elevated art form, above everything else, when of course the reality is it’s amidst everything else,” says de Graaf, the author of Four Walls and a Roof: The Complex Nature of a Simple Profession.

“Architecture, like everything else, is very much a product of the circumstances in which it is produced.

“Basically we’re talking about a discipline that isn’t autonomous.”

De Graaf believes most architects still produce stylistically “modern” buildings, but it’s a modern architecture devoid of its original intent, untethered from social responsibility and the dream of a decent standard of living and affordable housing for all.

This architecture remains cheap, efficient and rational, but it’s in the service of profits rather than people.

“The logic of a building no longer primarily reflects its intended use but instead serves mostly to promote a generic desirability in economic terms. Judgement of architecture is deferred to the market,” de Graaf says.

An estimated 1.8 million migrant workers are building Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup structures.

Architecture as an agent of inequality

Reading Thomas Piketty’s Capital, de Graaf was struck by the parallels between Piketty’s economic analysis and the progression of architectural history. The 1970s, he suggests, marked a decisive turning point in the history of architecture and housing.

“In 1972 the Pruitt-Igoe public housing estate in St Louis is demolished, an event that critics generally herald as the end of modern architecture and, on a larger scale, the end of modern utopian visions for the city,” he says.

“Through the general deployment of the term ‘real estate’, the definition of the architect is replaced by that of the economist.

“There may ultimately be no such thing as modern or post-modern architecture, but simply architecture before and after its annexation by capital.”

As a result, architecture has increasingly become a subject of protest.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.

The Future is Prefabricated

Prefabricated construction is in its infancy but with increasing demand on tradition construction and speed and sustainability benefits of prefabrication, could this new manufacturing industry change the way Australia builds?

The collapse of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry has been devastating, with up to 40,000 workers estimated to ultimately lose their jobs.

Yet with a rapidly growing population and cranes dotting our city skylines, a new manufacturing industry is on the cusp of a boom: prefabricated construction.

Image: article supplied

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are looking at how this burgeoning industry can provide safe, affordable and sustainable housing, while also offering the opportunity for former automotive manufacturing workers to transfer their skills.

The Melbourne School of Engineering is leading a new push to grow the prefabricated sector’s market share within the construction industry from 5 per cent to 15 per cent by 2025, contributing to around 20,000 new jobs and $30 billion of growth. They are supporting this research with large scale testing and training facilities at their recently announced new campus, to be built at Fishermans Bend.

Professor Tuan Ngo, Research Director of the Australian Research Council Training Centre for Advanced Manufacturing in Prefabricated Housing and the Asia-Pacific Research Network for Resilient and Affordable Housing, leads much of this work.

He says Australia has a lot to learn from European countries like Sweden, where prefabricated modular housing makes up 70 per cent of the construction industry.

Extreme weather, in particular long cold winters, can make building outside difficult there, so prefabricated components are created in manufacturing plants instead.

Why prefab in Australia?

Professor Ngo says supply is unable to meet increasing demand in the traditional Australian construction sector. Meanwhile, costs are rising, contributing to the housing affordability crisis affecting many Australians struggling to buy their first homes.

This was originally published by Architecture AU.

Click here to read the entire article.

From Brownfield to Green Walls: The Creation of Central Park

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017.

Dr. Stanley Quek and Nicholas Wolff from Greencliff will be at this year’s Conference, discussing the origins of the awarding winning Central Park project in Sydney, developed by Frasers Property Australia and Sekisui House.

Working at Frasers in 2005 they identified the outstanding opportunity presented by the then vast Carlton and United Brewery site, bordering Chippendale and possessing a 400m frontage to Broadway, being the main western approach to the CBD. The property was in the process of being vacated and put up for tender by the long-term owner of the site, Fosters Group.

On the property was a ramshackled series of warehouses, administration buildings, powerhouses, a number of former public streets and a collection of mid-19th century terrace houses  – all with varying degrees of heritage significance and spread across some 5.8Ha. Having secured the property, Frasers faced substantial negative sentiment from much of the local community, a revolving door of state planning ministers, little initial support for the project at the local government level and a Part 3A Concept Plan approval in place for a masterplan which had its own unique challenges.

Stanley and Nicholas will outline the strategic thinking and actions –  including a commitment to international design excellence, a full and frank engagement process with stakeholders, a unique marketing strategy and an unwavering commitment to the inclusion of leading environmental sustainability initiatives and major public art installations – all of which led ultimately, to reversing the negative sentiment and turning the project into the extraordinary success it is today.

This year the International Urban Design Conference offers optional tours available on Wednesday 15 November. These will include visiting two of the precincts that have been designed and built for the 2018 Commonwealth Games held on the Gold Coast in April 2018.

Find out more here.

Design Smart: Achieving High Quality Design Through Collaborative Processes

Mr Omar Barragan, Manager of Urban Design at Brisbane City Council will be attending this year’s International Urban Design Conference, discussing “Design smart: achieving high quality design through collaborative processes”.

As Brisbane grows as a New World City, the aim is to achieve a responsive subtropical design that speaks on behalf of the city – design that demonstrates the best elements of living in Subtropical Brisbane.

Omar Barragan

Brisbane needs exemplary projects that respond to an embrace our subtropical climate and showcase our city’s urban character and outdoor lifestyle. To achieve this strategic goal Brisbane City Council has created a new initiative that seeks ways to partner with the development industry and key stakeholders.

The Design SMART service is intended to be a pre-lodgement service from the initiation/inception phase of significant development projects. Council officers attend multiple pre-lodgment meetings and work with applicants to review the design opportunities and constraints of a site and to discuss how these might inform the development of the concept design for the site.

There are two key of differences in this process that set apart Brisbane’s approach to other cities. The first is the high level policy guidance provided by the recently adopted document, ‘ New World City Design Guide: Buildings that Breathe’. This forward thinking guide illustrates how residential and commercial buildings in the city centre, mixed use inner city, transport corridors and principal regional activity centres should be designed to respond to our subtropical climate and improve sustainability. This gives clarity to the industry on the expected three dimensional built outcomes for the city.

The second is the direct involvement from the initial stages of the city’s Independent Design Advisory Panel (IDAP). This panel provides Council with independent advice on design, quality, sustainability and appropriateness of strategies and projects of importance to Brisbane’s future growth. In this way, Design SMART facilitates direct feedback from industry-based professionals, real world advice, to developers from early stages of the design process.

The 10th International Urban Design Conference will be held at Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort & Spa, Gold Coast, Queensland from Monday 13 – Tuesday 14 November 2017. 

Secure your seat and register today!