Melbourne’s St Kilda has a fascinating and varied history and whenever you visit you always find something new (or old) and interesting to lead you off on a tangent.

Never boring, the eclectic mix of residents representing most socioeconomic groups has one thing in common: they are passionate about their ‘place’.

While the community focus is often on the St Kilda triangle or seaside – which was once Victoria’s first official tourist precinct – back just a bit from the attractive waterfront is a mess of roads coming together to form St Kilda Junction.

Back in 1975 the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works oversaw some work which ripped the heart from the Junction – widening high street, destroying the historic shopping precinct of 150 buildings (including the Junction Hotel), and changed its name to St Kilda Road. The resulting traffic mess and lack of soul is what we see today.Melbourne’s St Kilda has a fascinating and varied history and whenever you visit you always find something new (or old) and interesting to lead you off on a tangent.

David Lock Associates and Arup have launched a student competition, asking planning, urban design and architecture post graduate students to put their talents to re-monumentalising St Kilda Junction and restoring St Kilda Road South (the former High St) as the living backbone of the suburb. We want them to develop an urban design framework to create a new future for the Junction, whilst acknowledging and respecting the past.

Did you know there is a 300 year old, ancient Corroboree Tree at the Junction?

Or how about the fact that Windsor Railway Station was originally called Chapel Street Station and is currently on the Victorian Heritage Register?

And it’s interesting to note that the first passenger train from Flinders St to St Kilda took just 12 minutes 158 years ago – do we do any better now?

What would you like to see to bring St Kilda Junction and St Kilda Road South into the 21st Century?

If you know any post graduate students who could show us the way forward, let them know about ‘Re:imagine the Junction’:

If you require any further information about the competition, please email

Initial registrations close on Friday 13th March 2015 at 5pm (AEST)

Opportunity knocks

By Sean Hua

One of the prime benefits of living in a city is the dense concentration of human capital. Among others are the economies of scale associated with larger populations, and the increased density facilitating easier service provision.

All that comes from a governance perspective. Not as widely considered however, is the intense amount of competition for ideas and attention for “the next big thing”. Untapped potential may always remain so if an opportunity to display talent isn’t there.

For this reason, architecture firm De Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop relocated to a second-tier city to practice. The decision was business-based, but their presence is taking advantage of, and contributing to, the transition of a city from industry to a service economy.
The firm benefits from greater freedom to express themselves, easier access to influential people, and very likely a lower cost of living. To the city, the resultant new architecture will be an attractive selling point especially if it’s from locally-based. It speaks of aspiration: we have talent, and we can be great with it.

With fresh, skilled graduates making their way into smaller cities for the very same reasons this architecture firm did, aspiration could be the key for a new wave of city and economic development from the second-tier.
We may be on the cusp of urbanisation unlike what we've seen before: the brain drain and the best urban laboratories may no longer be the biggest and brightest cities, but rather the smaller, quieter ones with room to grow in a manner of its own choosing.

Read more here:

Are they listening?

By Nicholas Roebuck

98% of everything that is built and designed today is pure sh*t. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else” says the world’s most famous architect Frank Gehry.

An article recently publish in the New York times by Steven Bingler and Martin C. Pedersen declared “for too long, our profession [Architecture] has flatly dismissed the general public’s take on our work, even as we talk about making that work more relevant with worth y ideas like sustainability, smart growth and resilience planning.” So are our architects missing the point?

Bingle reminisces on a recent car trip with his 88 year old mother. Driving down Elliot Avenue in Charlottleville, his hometown, they passed a house designed and built by architecture students at the Univeristy of Virginia. To Steven, an architect, this model for affordable housing — a tough pair of stacked boxes, sheathed in corrugated metal — was a bold design statement, but to his mother’s eye, the house was a blight on the landscape, an insult to its historic neighbours.

It looks like somebody piled a couple of boxcars on top of each other, then covered them up with cheap metal and whatever else they could find at the junkyard!” she said.

The authors observe that self-congratulatory, insulated architects are “increasingly incapable…of creating artful, harmonious work that resonates with a broad swath of the general population, the very people we are, at least theoretically, meant to serve.

The question remains - As Bingler and Pedersen put it “…at what point does architecture’s potential to improve human life become lost because of its inability to connect with actual humans?

A case in point as they mention was the 2007 “Make it Right” charity program. The program sought to create prototypes for sustainable, affordable homes in a neighbourhood devastated by Hurricane Katerina. The eventual designs, most of which tried to take a basic form, the single family home, and squeeze it into the latest style with little consideration of local needs and local housing style were critiqued by the residents of the neighbourhood who weren’t impressed. The residents posed the logical questions: “What’s with the flat roofs – you know it rains a lot here right?” The high tech homes were expensive to build ($400,000) on average and the high tech fabrication has made them expensive to fix with mould growing on untested experimental materials and eco wood decks and stair rotting. The neighbourhoods are wastelands- failures in urban planning that isolate residents from social networks and public services.

As Bingler and Pederson point out, “…for years Architects have been educated to speak out as artists but we haven’t taught them how to listen. Architecture’s disconnect is both physical and spiritual. We’re attempting to sell the public buildings and neighborhoods they don’t particularly want, in a language they don’t understand. In the meantime, we’ve ceded the rest of the built environment to hacks, with sprawl and dreck rolling out all around us.

Aaron Betsky, is the former head of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and was director of the 2008 Venice International Architecture Biennale summarised the architect’s position: “We have three of the standard criticisms of buildings designed by architects: first, they are ugly according to what the piece’s authors perceive as some sort of widely-held community standard (or at least according to some 88-year old ladies); second, they are built without consultation; third they don’t work.”

Yet Betsky then admitted, “All those critiques might be true.” However, he claims that they are irrelevant, since as he states “architecture must be about experimentation and the shock of the new”. Why this should be the case he does not say. He goes on to affirm that sometimes designers must stretch technology to the breaking (or leaking) point: “The fact that buildings look strange to some people, and that roofs sometimes leak, is part and parcel of the research and development aspect of the design discipline” says Betsky. Ever brave, Betsky is willing to let others suffer for his art.

At no point did Betsky consider the actual human beings, the unwilling guinea pigs who live in the houses. He implicitly says of the poor residents: “Do their roofs leak? Let them buy buckets”.

With this being said, it is unfair to lump the entire industry into the category that Betsky implies. The reality is that there are many architects that are quite commercial and responsive to needs of the consumer, contrary to views of the authors. We would argue that in many cases architects are hamstrung by the constant desire to maximise yield as well as restrictive planning controls often at the peril of the resident. We implore our architects of today to open their ears, stand up for the consumer.

Read more here:

Life behind the walls

By Amruta Purohit

War has transformed the once beautiful city of Baghdad. Sebastian Schutz and Niran Banna spent six year understanding how two decades of conflict have permanently altered the social and physical fabric of the city.

One of the major impacts has been construction of high concrete walls built to temporarily hold off violence and attacks. The walls that were built for community safety have now created neighbourhoods that are imperishably separated from the city centre and from each other. The entire city is hidden behind concrete!

This disconnection has made the city network too complicated and encouraged residents to move outside. It has also made access to basic services like schools and hospital challenging.

Now Baghdad wants its’ streets back.

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Looks like the citizens have accepted the conditions and some Iraqi artist are using these walls to tell a story of Baghdad. The walls are painted to reflect their history and give the citizen a canvas to share their proud and painful history.

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The walls are recently being demolished and being replaced with trees, bushes and fences. However, use of various landscape elements to maintain the separation reflects the reluctance in integrating the city as a whole. While some walls are replaced others have opened up great opportunities for the citizens to create public places like markets and park.

To read complete story of impact of war and terrorism on Baghdad check:

A caring car

By Sean Hua

Cycling and motorcycle riding is growing in popularity, however it’s not a preferred method of getting to work by most. One of the oft-cited reasons for this choice is the perceived danger of sharing the road with cars. The fears come with good reason, as drivers are often only conscious of other cars, and even then, frequently not!

Bike riders blame car drivers for not paying attention, while car drivers blame bike riders for taking up valuable road space (or something like that). Either way, there is a level of tension that exists between the two groups, but by and large, the occupants of the 1.5-ton metal box win out over those on two wheels.

Jaguar, historically famous for once producing the fastest sedans in the world, are now testing a sensor system that alerts drivers to the presence of a rider in their blind spot. The method of alert is currently being tested, with a range to be implemented from a mechanical “tap on the shoulder”, to the sound of a bike bell, to flashes on the car pillar or instrument panel. More warnings are due to be enabled the closer the car gets to the rider. Crucially though, the response to avoid the rider is in the hands of the driver.

Collision prevention technology is nothing new. Google have famously been road-testing their driverless cars (covered in this blog post here), while Honda and BMW have also recently tested their own systems that take over control in risky situations. These alternatives cover the spectrum of safety from a fully autonomous vehicle (Google), assisted driving (Honda and BMW), to autonomous driving (Jaguar).

What does this mean for drivers and riders you might ask? For the latter, it will mean safer roads immediately. Collisions due to lack of awareness or slow reaction times will likely be reduced thanks to greater awareness for the drivers. An incentive to cycle more perhaps, but only if adoption rates by drivers are high; thus pulling demand both ways. For those who enjoy the experience of driving though, the chances are they would prefer a system like Jaguar’s that allows them more control rather than less, and that might damper the appreciation of assisted driving.

If legislation enforced such systems in the name of road safety however, we may see them become quite common and accidents due to human error would be a thing of the past. We might see the use of cars decline and cycling numbers skyrocket… or as this article suggests, we may see ridiculous levels of congestion.

Where does that leave those who enjoy getting behind the wheel though? Perhaps we may be reduced to being weekend warriors and recreational drivers; enthusiasts enjoying the modern forms of transport from a bygone era. In fact, not unlike the cyclists of today… Wouldn’t that be something?

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Too close for comfort?
 The question of how far people will walk to reach a transit stop has a pretty significant impact on the shape of cities. Australian urban planners conventionally draw the line of ‘walkability’ at 800m, in line with our American colleagues’ line at about a half-mile. Sometimes these distances are reduced for bus stops or less frequent rail services, however the consensus has held that no one makes it farther than 800m on foot. 

The impact of this thinking can be seen clearly in the planning rules a city creates for its transit-oriented development. Many states across Australia have released Transit Oriented Development (TOD) guides to encourage increased development intensities near transport infrastructure. Victoria’s ResCode requires that 95 per cent of new dwellings within a subdivision be located within street walking distances of 400m, 600m, and 800m from existing or proposed bus, tram and rail stations respectively.

However new research from the University of New Orleans suggests that some cities indeed might be selling their “TOD” footprint short. In examining property values around mass transit stations, the researchers found a transit-oriented price premium which extended up to one mile (1.6km) from rapid transit systems.

Read more about the findings here.

Do you agree with these findings?

Staying Alive

More than 30 years ago, Detroit made a selfless contribution to the world with its unique industrially-inspired electronic music. Now people around the world (and locally) are brainstorming ideas to help rebuild and redesign the decaying and nearly dead city.

Since filing for bankruptcy in July 2013 a number of initiatives from around the globe have been developed to revitalise the legendary Motor City. A design competition was launched to create a new vision for the city and revitalise key sites. Empowered citizens and community groups refused to give Detroit away and worked together to create places for people and investments in public transport infrastructure to pave the way to a brighter future.

Have a look at these promising urban initiatives.

The M-1 Rail
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The M-1 Rail line, which is currently under construction, is a new line that will run in downtown Detroit. The construction and operation of the new line is led by a non-profit organisation that raised $200,000 for the improvement of crosswalks for the new rail. The rail line will support the creation of jobs and housing.

Urban agriculture by Detroit Farm and Garden
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Detroit Farm and Garden is a local store that provides Detroit’s communities with farming produce, gardening and landscape resources.

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Compost is great way to turn waste into something good and useful. The organisation Detroit Dirt focuses on implementing compost on abandoned parcels of land in Detroit and turns them into urban farms for the community’s benefit.

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Bringing a city back to life is not an easy job, it requires participation at all levels of many stakeholders. Music is also playing an important role in the transformation of Detroit and the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is the proof. You may or may not be familiar with this international festival that tours in many worldwide cities (it started in Melbourne), but also make its only North American appearance in Detroit! The alleys are used for artistic expression and also as an avenue to help the community. Dally in the Alley is another festival sponsored by a non-profit organisation that uses the proceeds from the street fair for projects that seek to improve the quality of life for people who live and work in the neighbourhood.

Although a lot of work is yet to be done, hope is not all lost.

Read more here:

First Amphibious House in the UK

Image credit: Baca Architects & Waterstudio
Here’s a thought for anyone looking at building a house in Melbourne’s leafy Elwood or any number of Sydney’s bayside suburbs – which can get a bit waterlogged when it rains – an amphibious house. No, it’s not a house with a built-in snorkel, but it can happily live on either land or water. The idea is not new of course; the general concept of a house that can float up and down with the tides has been used in Amsterdam for quite some time now (although those houses are usually on the water to start with). 

Anyway, the UK has started to catch on with their first amphibious house nearing completion on the banks of the River Thames. It’s a great design response for properties subject to flooding, it’s smarter than elevating the floor level above an arbitrary flood level (which can change over time anyway), it’s practical and it actually looks great.

Our only question is, how do you leave your house on the odd occasion when it’s surrounded by water? Do you just wait until the water subsides or should it come with a dinghy?

Check out all the images of Baca Architects’ design.

Read more here.

Advertisement for clean air

Re-conceiving under-utilised or obsolete spaces or objects into unique and playful urban places, is one of the latest fads in the world of urban design. A city must now be peppered with astro-turf laneways, shipping container bars and ‘pedestrianised’ railway lines to prove its credentials as truly liveable. 

But an artist from Los Angeles has taken the repurposing of urban objects to a new level in his reconception of the billboard.

Dubbed ‘Urban Air’, Stephen Glassman’s vision is to transform existing urban billboards into living, suspended bamboo gardens above LA’s infamous highway network. These billboards, when transformed from their generic commercial state into architectural planters filled with living bamboo trees, are intended to become a work of art. Each Wi-Fi-enabled Urban Air billboard contains misters to support the growth of the bamboo gardens. As the bamboo grows, it not only expands the ‘green realm’, but also absorbs air pollutants and urban heat, increasing biodiversity, and reducing night time light pollution.

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His initial Kickstarter campaign in 2012, raised over $100k to prototype the ‘Urban Air’ vision. Although a prototype is yet to be realised, the idea of repurposing one of the city’s greatest eyesores into a productive asset has gained a lot of attention around the world.

Read more about the project on Arup’s website here.

And not to be outdone by nature or art, scientists in Peru have developed a billboard panel which is able to purify 500,000m3 of urban air per day, or the equivalent of 1,200 trees. Watch their video here.

The Peruvians have also developed water producing billboards in Lima. There’s no end to their ingenuity.

Appy neighbours

A 28-year-old Dutch man who lost his job, was dumped by his girlfriend, and returned home to find his apartment (and all his possessions) ablaze, has developed an App which turns the neighbourly act of lending your power drill, into a community building phenomenon.

For Dan Weddepohl, showing vulnerability wasn’t easy in the era of Facebook, where everybody seems to lead cheerful and happy lives. But it led him to an interesting discovery.

“Neighbours I didn’t really know up until then came by to bring all kinds of essential things, like food, blankets or cooking utensils,” Weddepohl recalls. “It turned out that people really like helping others. I also found out that asking for help creates real human contact. I realized that this is what really matters in life and not the designer clothes or the flashy car. It’s people that make you happy.”

The experience led Weddepohl to develop a website and mobile app called Peerby . The idea is to make it as easy as possible for people to borrow stuff they need from their neighbours. Users type into the app what they need — power drills, ladders and other tools for household projects are common requests. Peerby then queries nearby members. If someone has an item they’re willing to lend, they respond and use the app’s messaging tool to sort out the logistics. All this typically happens in less than 30 minutes.

More than just a temporary exchange of goods, these interactions have become a form of community building.

Of course, Peerby isn’t the only app focused on facilitating sharing among strangers. “Collaborative consumption” are increasingly meaningful buzzwords in a growing number of cities around the world. Everything from car rides (Uber, Lyft, Bla Bla Car, Snappcar) to meals (PlateCulture, MealSharing) to lodging (Airbnb, Couchsurfing) to clothes (DigNSwap, Rewear) can be exchanged through apps.

Read more about it here.

Watch: Daan Weddepohl’s winning presentation at the New Cities Foundation’s 2014 AppMyCity! competition.

Banner image credit:imore.come

Full Steam ahead for the Bays Precinct

A summit of international industry leaders was held over 3 days in Sydney late last month to join great minds in planning for the urban transformation project known as the Bays Precinct.

This summit drew on the expertise of global, national and local urban transformation specialists to explore best-practice urban renewal from across the globe, as well as investment and finance options for infrastructure to better inform the development of this precinct. The world leading urban renewal experts provided ideas and lessons learnt on the best ways to revitalise Sydney’s inner harbour area.

The Summit highlighted some challenges to be addressed and UrbanGrowth NSW will now begin preparing a statement of principles to guide its evolution, before more detailed strategic plans are advanced next year.

So where is The Bays Precinct? It is within 2km to the west of Sydney’s CBD, it consists of 80 hectares of government owned land and harbour waterways. And what is it? The Bays Precinct Urban Transformation Program will transform currently underutilised areas into a destination that will contribute significantly to the economic, cultural and social wellbeing of the city and the state.

The Bays Precinct will be revitalised as a world-class, iconic waterfront destination, and will deliver vibrant and dynamic places for the city and the State. Read more here

Danger diesel

Diesel: outdated and dirty, or a model for excellent fuel-efficiency in a more environmentally conscious world? When I was a child, my father the engineer and car enthusiast, would stress to me how diesel pumped out harmful sulphur-based fumes. When I became older and the costs of owning a car were factored into my lifestyle, the modern “ultra-low-sulphur” diesel engines were attractive thanks to better bang-for-your-buck, and, for the benefit of my conscience, lower CO2 emissions than petrol.

Car makers have seen some sense in this too. In recent years, Australia has been increasingly following European Union emission regulations, and we have witnessed some car models like the Ford Territory replace their larger petrol engines with smaller diesel ones.

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What do we do then, when Europe decides to ban diesel? Authorities in the UK and France are beginning a push to curb and eventually get diesel cars off the road in the name of other pollutants like Nitrogen oxides and various carcinogens. Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris wants diesel cars out of the city, with a plan to become more friendly to pedestrians and cycling-dominated instead. Boris Johnson, the famed mayor of London, similarly has plans to halve pollution and introduce hybrid buses, and zero-emission taxis.

What this means for their cities is a shift away from personal motor vehicles to public and active transport. The byproducts of more active citizens and less-congested roads could even be beneficial for the economy thanks to fewer lost hours from poor health or being late to work.

What would our cities look and feel like with such changes? We (perhaps) no longer have an East-West tunnel to think about here in Melbourne, so would that investment be better placed where Paris and London have put theirs? We have followed Europe on vehicular emissions so far… will we keep doing so?

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Tree time back in favour

Who doesn’t like a nice avenue of street trees? Most of us would agree that an avenue of trees makes for a more pleasant urban environment.

But there are some people who have good reason not to like trees of course: plumbers (tree roots get in your pipes), power companies (those branches get stuck in the power lines – give them the chop), builders (roots can damage footings) and the people who lay the footpaths around them.

We found this recent article by Alan Davies in ‘The Urbanist’ as a reminder of the benefits of planting street trees with his suggested “green the streets of Australia” program.

Tree planting was something that seemed to be commonplace a few generations ago, but then fell out of favour. As these trees are now getting to the end of their life expectancy it seems that street tree planting is now back on the agenda.

Our observations in Melbourne are that street tree planting is making a comeback. The wide tree-lined boulevards that were established in Melbourne many years ago such as St Kilda Road, Dandenong Road and Mt Alexander Road rated a mention in Plan Melbourne as something to draw inspiration from in our new transport corridors. The City of ME Melbourne City Council is also focussing on greening the city through a comprehensive tree planting program. 

Ackland Street, St Kilda
Image credit: DLA

Church Street, Middle Brighton
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As cities densify, the role of streets to provide amenity, recreation and ecological benefit becomes more important. Streets become de-facto ‘open space’ in urbanised areas where people walk, jog, ride, drive, sit, eat, drink and meet up with friends. Other than our home and workplace, the street is the place where the majority of us spend most of our time, and it is the place where we all come together and experience the city – so it’s an investment that benefits everyone in some way (even the plumbers and electricity providers amongst us), which can’t be a bad thing can it?

Arc-ing up for architecture

Interesting machinations in Victoria with the Australian Institute of Architects seeking to have the use of registered architects mandated for Victorian buildings over three stories, after some architects have been dropped from building projects once permits were granted.

While the Housing Industry Association opposes the move, there appears to be support from the City of Melbourne and some other inner city councils, particularly in relation to high rise building permits. Strangely enough they want to see a property built the way the architect intended and the way it was approved!

It seems that a recent trend of dumping architects to save money once a planning permit is granted, is resulting in poor outcomes with attractive features dropped from new high rise developments.

The Age has reported that the City of Melbourne has taken this issue to Victoria’s newly sworn in Planning Minister, Richard Wynne, asking him to ensure architects Elenberg Fraser are kept on for an 89-storey project on Spencer Street.

These rules are already in place in NSW thanks to the State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) 65 good design principles.

Wave Building in Broadbeach, showing the style and quality of an architecturally designed apartment building 
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Who wants new buildings that don’t contribute to the public realm or are built with poor materials? We sit pretty firmly behind the AIA on this one!

In the round

Image credit: Atelier Thomas Pucher
Who doesn’t like a curve? Austrian architects from Atelier Thomas Pucher surely do. Their elegant curvilinear building proposal has allowed the team to win first prize in an international competition for the expansion of a mixed-use district in Vienna.

This residential component, which comprises seven buildings spaced within landscaped areas, will adjoin an unused race track. The proposal was designed to complement the existing commercial and office uses in the district but also to contribute to the making of a vibrant neighbourhood.

Atelier Thomas Pucher

Perhaps inspiration from overseas can influence Melbourne, Sydney and other Australian cities to take a hard look at their beloved racetracks and see what might be done to help achieve their full redevelopment potential.

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Banner image credit: Atelier Thomas Pucher