Carte Blanche

Paris: for sale or for lease

Carte Blanche

Who would have thought that a city as old as Paris would finally embrace modernity? The French capital is revamping itself, shaking off the dust and looking to build a new reputation. Earlier this month, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, officially launched “Reinvent Paris”. An unexpected call for innovative urban projects from local and international firms (let it be architects, investors, property developers, architects, designers or start-ups) that will respond creatively to contemporary challenges faced by the capital. In the Mayor’s words, this will be “an urban experiment on an unparalleled scale” (Hidalgo, 2014).

‘Paname’ (another word for Paris) is putting 23 sites on the table along with the opportunity to buy or lease the sites in order to bring the projects to completion. The sites are scattered within Paris’ arrondissements and along the periphery. They are quite eclectic and include an old mansion, abandoned sites, large industrial land and an electrical sub-station.

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It looks like the difficult economic context has forced the public sector to rethink its relationship with the private sector. The different actors are given carte blanche - within a defined strategic framework – and the support to bring the projects to fruition.

This urban experiment is also challenging the concept of public-private partnership. It will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

The closing date for Expressions of Interest is January 31, 2015. The international panel will be held at the end of next year.

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‘Surf’s up’

Some people would say the only thing missing from Melbourne is a good surf beach. Our Sydney colleagues certainly have one up on us there!

But our friend Phil Carter at Arup, along with architect Damian Rogers, is seeking to rectify that! The brain child of Rogers, the world-first plan is to create a floating beach at the Docklands and create artificial waves to meet the needs of urban surfies.

The close proximity to public transport and residential areas provides a ready-made audience and the Docklands is always in search of new ways to attract visitors to the area.

Of course Brisbane has a very popular inner city beach, created along its South Bank, which opened in 1992 at the site of the World Expo ’88. It attracts 11 million visitors a year but it certainly doesn’t have 1.5 metre waves!

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It does have one advantage though – you don’t need to wear a wetsuit. It would be great to see a plan to lift the temperature a few degrees down at the Docklands!

What’s more Australian than catching a train to Southern Cross Station to go surfing?

Image credit: Squint/Opera, Damian Rogers Architect and Arup.

Water World

While certain political leaders aren’t all that fussed about planning for a future with a different climate, it is the only credible consensus among academics and those involved with it’s investigation. A warmer climate, rising sea levels, the disappearance of low-lying communities and even nations… All are prospects on the cards in a warmer future.

Inland cities might be spared the biblical flood, but life would probably be vastly different for a coastal metropolis. Brian Stokle, cartographer running the Urban Life Signs website, teamed up with San Francisco area blog Burrito Justice to create a hypothetical map of the City swamped by a 200 foot sea level rise 60+ years into the future. Quite how Australia would fare under such circumstances would be contentious, seeing as the majority of the population resides in sprawling seaside urban areas.

Image source: @BurritoJustice and @UrbanLieSigns
The output contains a pretty detailed alternate history about how society has evolved (and in some cases, not at all) to meet the sea level change and warmer climate. New place names, food boats instead of food trucks, how a sports franchise wants to relocate, public debate about locating a shipping port, NIMBYs determined to protect flooded and isolated communities… the list goes on.

Ultimately, the exercise puts a much more whimsical, optimistic spin on what is ordinarily portrayed and accepted as a gloomy future. It poses the question: the climate may make us change our habits, but will the way we interact with one another really be that different?

To have a look at the project in more detail, see here:

Image banner source: @BurritoJustice and @UrbanLifeSigns

The power of light

The power of light to change the urban environment was used to great effect over the weekend as Berliners marked 25 years since the fall of the infamous wall.

The wall which had become a marker of the divide between capitalism and communism was a dark physical divide cutting right through the middle of a major city.

Image source: The Telegraph UK 

To mark the anniversary, artists Christopher and Marc Bauder and studio Whitevoid created the Lichtgrenze (border of light), an urban installation of light and balloons to recreate and light the wall’s path.

It was a beautiful reminder of how far things have come and a stunning display of the power light can have in changing an urban environment at night.

For more images see:

More images at Designcollector:

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Markets: A New Era?

Image source: Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee,
The Dutch did it again! The architecture firm MVRDV designed the recently completed ‘Markthal’ or Market Hall development located right in the heart of Rotterdam.

This gigantic and monumental structure is none other than a mixed-use development that ingeniously – some might say – combines residential and commercial uses.
View from an apartment
Image source: Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee,
Markthal is undoubtedly innovative with its inverted horseshoe shape that creates a giant arch of 40m in height and 120m in length. Below the structure is a large four-level basement car parking (yes, everything about this development is big!) and a supermarket.

Food stand inside the Market Hall
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Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee/PR, The
At Ground Floor, between two immense glazed walls, is an enclosed food hall that can accommodate 96 food stands. The lower two floors shelter retail units, restaurants and cafes. So far, the development just looks like an expensive covered market but there is in fact more to it. 228 apartments over nine floors are embedded in the vault itself, whilst overlooking the market below or enjoying a view of Rotterdam and its nearby rivers. The apartments are both for sale and rent and offered a mix of 3-5 bedrooms (which is common in Europe).
The Market Hall (Markthal) during construction
Image source: Jesica Guirand (DLA)

The ‘superdutch’ architects at MVRDV took the project a step further by incorporating a 3D fresco realised by Arco Coenen depicting produces of the market over a 11 000m2 surface (just in case you cannot get enough of that market feel).

So, is this mixed-use market hall too much? Could you imagine something like this - let’s say - as part of the Queen Victoria Market precinct renewal project?

In this instance, the Markthal project was envisaged as a way of providing housing in an area that suffers great deficit but also to revitalize the centre of Rotterdam, its market (although only a small amount of the existing outdoor market stands could afford to move inside the vault), and contribute to the vibrancy and livability of this district.
Former market, a few meters from the Market Hall
Image source: Jessica Guirand (DLA)
Many have acclaimed MVRDV’s boldness but others remain skeptical as to the place of such a structure in the existing urban fabric. Despite its architectural quality, the building seems to only add on to the juxtaposition of iconic buildings without creating a link between the structures.

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Banner image source: Michel Porro, Getty Images (

Gaudy or great?

Owners of a terrace house in Port Melbourne have been fined $4000 for painting the front fence of their property, which is subject to a Heritage Overlay. After fighting the decision at VCAT, they now have to repaint the fence into one of the approved heritage colours, or pay the fine.

The controversial rainbow fence in Port Melbourne
Image source: The Age
Owner Alex Skopellos slams the VCATdecision  saying that the colour will stay, and that the move is “just the council wanting to make it more conservative for the yuppies”. After speaking to his neighbours, Mr Skopellos claims that he’ll be doing “more bad than good painting over it, because everyone loves it”.

 The idea for the scandalous fence came from overseas trips, where historical precincts are often full of colour and character. Coloured paint is a cheap, fast, and relatively temporary way for residents to personalise their properties, a move which many cities embrace. 

Distinctive rainbow row housing in Bristol, UK
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Individually personalised historic properties in Trinidad, Cuba
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The Council’s hyper-conservative approach is especially disappointing given Melbourne’s global reputation as a dynamic and vibrant city. Melbourne had street art and astro-turfed laneways before the guerrilla urbanists could unstack their milk crates. And many would argue that it is this self-expression which gives Melbourne its strong local identity and much heralded ‘liveability’.

Far from being contextually inappropriate, we consider that the rainbow fence was a well-considered, and even well-consulted, expression of fun and humour in what is otherwise a fairly repetitive streetscape. The colours are taken from a muted rainbow spectrum which works with, rather than against, the neighbours’ approved beiges, pinks and greys.  

So what’s the harm? Tell us what you think. 

Banner image source: Alastair Campbell (DLA)

Adapting to the rising sea

It is interesting to see how the experts in the United States are going about safeguarding their cities from climate change and rising sea levels.

A recent study found over 1700 cities in the US are locked in to a future below high tide levels and Boston is one of the largest at threat.

The City of Boston, Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Boston Harbor Association teamed up earlier this year, not to talk about how to avoid the problem but how to adapt to it.

They ran a competition to see how Boston can use urban design changes to address rising sea levels.

The Urban Land Institute of Boston also published a study called The Implications of Living with Water, ( which said the time to act is now and that Greater Boston could be an example of “for swift and skilful planning and construction by which many other metropolitan regions around the world could look to.”
Image source: Bostinno and Arlen Stawasz
The innovative design ideas range from creating a synthetic reef and using porous green material to safeguard the Boston HarborWalk through to seasonal pop up retail and building Venetian-inspired canals. Take a look at some of the ideas. (

Banner image source: courtesy of Sasaki Associates

96 problems

The route 96 tram between East Brunswick and St Kilda Beach is Melbourne’s busiest. More than 15 million people ride this line annually, so any changes that impact its users will be predictably contentious.

The proposals to change this route into a dedicated light rail for its entire length have been mooted since 2012. This would involve changes to the available parking spaces or drivable lanes, on stretches of the route that are shared with cars. However, opposition has been ever-present and is indeed mounting. Residents and business-owners have campaigned – surprisingly enough in the left-leaning areas of Brunswick East, Carlton North and St Kilda – to maintain the amount of parking available in the stretch north of Brunswick Road/Holden Street (see below), as well as rejection of proposals for a public mall at the St Kilda terminus.

Northern terminus of route 96 – Public Transport Victoria (PTV)

Public Transport Victoria is making an admirable effort in its consultation processes, but obviously cannot address everybody’s concerns. Among the issues being debated with the opposition are congestion, threats to businesses, safety, and the debatable necessity of the project. A common thread throughout these points of contention is the assumption that mode choice will remain the same after the proposed upgrades. Resistance to change often appears inherent in transport issues though: even Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

With rising fuel prices and increasing congestion, who is to say that ridership of the 96 won’t become more popular as locals seek to save money? Indeed, certain businesses abroad have been incredibly successful at encouraging their workforce to drive less and use public transport more. With proposed infrastructure works designed to make the tram a more attractive option, would this be an opportunity for environmentally conscious businesses to take advantage of?

Read here for the full story:

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Shopping Hungry

If you haven’t already noticed, times are a changing – including how we are shopping. Nowadays there is an online focus (did someone say ASOS?) and with the ease and convenience making it more accessible to all, this is a growing industry.

This has contributed in part to the demise of the traditional shopping high street… think Oxford Street, Sydney or Chapel Street and Bridge Road in Melbourne. These strips were once bustling fashion hubs and now it’s hard not to notice the vacant shop fronts and for lease signs in the windows.

It’s not just the online shopping, there are parking and traffic issues, high rents and competition from the larger shopping centres and the central city shopping precincts.

A recent article by Milanda Rout in The Australian also highlighted a “reluctance to face economic reality by many involved on the strips and a lack of any coherent plan to adapt to the changing market” as a contributing factor to this so-called demise.

In this regard, Chapel Street is well ahead with the long standing Chapel Street Precinct Association which unites traders and maps their vision going forward. This is supported by Stonnington City Council in planning for the future of these areas and recognising the issues faced through structure planning – Chapel Vision and the recently released Chapel reVision.

However, the Woollahra City Council has recently employed a placemaking consultancy, the Village Well, to save Oxford Street. The Village Well (read more here: is led by Gilbert Rochecouste – an international advisor on building communities and making places. The key points to come out of the assessment for Oxford Street recommend public realm improvements and making the street welcoming, which will require traffic improvements.

Oxford Street itself faces additional constraints; it is split between two local Councils – Woollahra and the City of Sydney (not to mention the State government-owned road) who both have different tactics for jump starting the street. The City of Sydney has gone down the creative avenue – such as offering start-up businesses discounted rent for short-term leases – while Woollahra has focused on more specific planning controls to promote growth.

It seems the solution lies in a combination of factors, but interestingly enough (and it seems obvious now) food will be central to the reactivation of these streets. Rochecouste’s theory is:

“Shoppers, especially Gen Y or millennials, will travel across town for artisan sourdough or a cold-drip coffee or a farmers’ market. Once people eat, they will linger, wander past a fashion boutique, browse in a local bookshop. This has happened on Crown Street, Surry Hills, and on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, with both considered thriving high streets”.

Image source: Mary Portas via


So watch this space, will there be a revitalisation of the local shopping strip or will the mighty mall continue to dominate?

Which shopping experience do you prefer? Do you like the experience of the high street or do you prefer the convenience of the mall?

Read more here:

Get this city moving

The rates of obesity in this country and around the world are amongst the most pressing health issues faced in the first world.

Some cities are taking the bull by the horns and making meaningful change to really tackle the issue.

Oklahoma is having a makeover.

Having worked on a very public weight loss plan for the city (see ‘This city is going on a diet with great success – 47,000 people lost over 1 million pounds having been educated on better eating and exercise habits – the mayor wants to go further to keep the weight off.

The car-centric city will have a new master zoning plan, which will ensure public health is considered when making zoning decisions. The policy is being backed with some investment in change also, with a new 70 acre park to link the CBD to the Oklahoma River. There will also be new jogging, walking and bike trails, gyms in schools, and sidewalks which are more conducive to pedestrians.

It won’t happen tomorrow, but it’s a strong integrated plan of action to help Oklahoma’s people get fit and healthy if they want to engage.

Much closer to home, we’ve had a recent example in regional Victoria. With the help of a commercial TV program the local community – one of the most obese in Australia – collectively worked to lose a lot of weight and adopt healthy lifestyles.

But it’s so easy to go back to the bad old ways if there are barriers to exercise and incorporating movement in your day to day life.

Ararat Rural City Council has also jumped on board. Earlier this year they launched their Ararat Active City campaign to encourage a complete change of lifestyle for their 8000 residents, following on from their involvement in the Biggest Loser. While their focus is on continuing the exercise that helped their people drop dramatic amounts of weight, they are also looking at what encourages people to exercise in the surrounding environment.

We’ve seen some great ideas for increasing physical activity in cities in recent editions of Plantastic:

What are some of the great urban design ideas you’ve seen to get people active and moving on the city streets?

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Red light public dancer

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This interactive red light pedestrian stop signal engages and entertains the public to ensure that pedestrian stop and wait until it’s safe to cross.

The concept is part of the ‘Smart Ideas’ promotions from the Smart car company and advertising agency BBDO Germany. However, it’s concerning that in order to encourage pedestrians to stop, wait and obey signs for their own safety it is needed in the first instance.

Seriously, it’s not about pedestrians waiting but rather vehicles having the priority too often. So maybe drivers should be entertained while pedestrians cross?

The fascination with all things tall!

It seems like the issue of tall buildings in Melbourne’s city centre is never out of the papers.

I’ve heard the rumblings of dissent. Melbourne and its liveable image is under pressure, with ever increasing land value and smaller available city sites developers argue that to have viable projects they must build higher. It’s too bad if it means we have to live in their shadows.

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So who is to blame for this? Let’s take a look across the pond. I recently saw this startling infographic above and it really got me thinking. With non-occupiable space reaching up to 30% of these “tallest” buildings, what’s it all about?

Too often it seems to me these buildings are about spectacle and ego and rarely make a contribution to the city at ground level. I’m going to say something controversial – I went to Dubai and I didn’t like it! My problem is that it doesn’t seem to be about the users of either the buildings or the city.

Melbourne is not Dubai. The tallest buildings here would possibly just make the cut on the lower end of that infographic list, thankfully. I’m not anti-height in the city centre far from it, I’m pro density company living, but since when has it become the norm to push above height restrictions where possible? Melbourne has an excellent record for public realm design with the ‘human scale’ of streets and squares long being ‘high’ on the agenda, let’s be careful now that we keep it so!

Banner image source: David Iliff License- CC-BY-SA 3.0

Roads of tomorrow

Google’s driverless cars have clocked up hundreds of thousands of kilometers without incident in a quest to prove their safety as a viable alternative transport. However, one use of these cars that isn’t talked about, curiously enough for the search engine giant, is the ability to collect mapping information while on the move.

Designer Pernilla Ohrstedt teamed up with 3D-mapping specialists ScanLAB to create a prototype vehicle, one that would blur the lines between reality and the virtual world. The theory is that repeated scans by vehicles passing through will build a high-resolution virtual image of an area. Eventually, Ohrstedt says, “we have a perfect one-to-one replica that is constantly updating with information".

While such a tool can be incredibly useful as an exploratory resource, and an aid to the cars themselves, questions of privacy will no doubt arise when the technology is implemented. To what extent such tech becomes mainstream really depends on how much of it we allow.

Full article at:

Melbourne tower overshadowing the Yarra

Melbourne Council has three important planning ordinances – street wall height along Swanston Street should be 40m, maintaining visual prominence of the Shrine of Remembrance and protecting the Yarra River from overshadowing.

Recently the City of Melbourne approved a development of 295 metres to replace the 1960s Suncorp building. The development proposes to incorporate a tower on the western half of the site and the building form is divided into three distinct parts. It proposes a hotel, commercial and residential at upper levels and retail uses at ground level.

Proposed Open Space on Suncorp site along Collins Street
There is a lot of argument going on regarding this proposal and questions have been raised about whether Victorian Planning Minister, Matthew Guy, will approve it. The argument presented against increasing the height was against creation of a new 1,900 sqm public open space which will be integrated with the open space proposed at 433-455 Collins Street.

View of proposed development from Yarra Promenade
The proposal is said to not only overshadow the Yarra River corridor but also Queensberry Square in Southbank. However, as per calculations the tower will overshadow Queensberry Square only for 16 minutes between 11am-2pm at the Equinox (report here).

The images below compare the building envelopes of a proposal complying planning rules versus the one which proposes to go higher in exchange for public open space.

Clause 22.02 of the Melbourne Planning Scheme seeks to protect the Yarra River from overshadowing. Developer CBUS is seeking an amendment (Amendment C247) to this rule to allow the development to go ahead. 

There are few concerns raised through this approval:

· Would it create a precedent for future development to overshadow the Yarra?

· Should the amenity of one open space be ignored for a potential new open space presented by the proposal?

· Will this newly proposed open space be overshadowed by development along Collins Street anyway?

· Should every application be assessed on a case-by-case basis?

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Source: images from Woods Bagot Architects

Riding the wave of foreign investment

Not since pre GFC (circa 2007) has Melbourne’s CBD seen the exponential property investment it has experienced in the last financial year.

The CBD has seen sales of approximately $3.47 billion so far in 2014 having soared past the previous record of $2.9 billion spent in 2007. The interesting point is that around 50 per cent of the CBD’s major sales have been accounted for by a wave of Asian investment.

The sale of a pair of office sites sold for a whopping $1 billion, caps off a record breaking year of investment in the CBD with estimates of around $3.5 billion having already been spent on office towers in 2014.

Notwithstanding the wave of foreign investment, local buyers have also hit back hard with approximately $1 billion combined sales including properties on the corner of Bourke and William Street going for $608.1 million and 700 Bourke St for $433.5 million.
Top skyscraper sales in Melbourne’s CBD
321 Exhibition St
Invesco (American)
700 Bourke St
AMP Capital (Australian)
CBUS (Colliers/Savills)
93-119 Kavanagh St, Southbank
PJ Development Holdings (Malaysia)
Banco Group (Knight Frank)
CBW (Corner of Bourke and William St)
GPT Group (Australian)
CBUS (Colliers/
QBE House
M&G Real Estate (UK)
Investa Office Fund (Colliers)
Source: Herald Sun and Knight Frank

The strong sales have been attributed to the low interest environment, the weight of money from domestic super funds and offshore investors and an improving market. CBRE director Mark Wizel said “offshore buyers were not land banking in the CBD but moving to develop sites, helping to stimulate the local economy.”

For the full article visit- “Foreign and local buyers flock to city skyscraper sales”