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

Nothing is a waste

Vehicles running on gas are a common thing. However, this bus in Britain has made headlines as it is the first bus in the UK to run on biomethane gas produced from human sewage and food waste. Not only will the bus reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuel but it will also produce less of a carbon footprint than the traditional buses. With a full tank it can run almost 300km and can carry 40 passengers at once. This full tank is produced by the annual waste of about only five people. The first official bus will run between the city of Bath and the Bristol airport, along with other routes.

The company that generates the biomethane fuel is GENeco and it states that it generates 17 million cubic metres of biomethane, which can power almost 8,300 homes.

Use of biomethane as a fuel has previously been used in Norway and Sweden. The initial cost to set up the infrastructure is high. However, the gas produced is cheap and from a long-term perspective it is a sustainable approach that can reduce our dependency on fuel and also contribute to improving the air quality. Considering Melbourne has an extensive bus network with 346 routes operating, we could consider adopting this innovative approach. 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Could we see the route 380 and Melbourne’s other buses powered by biomethane?

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Tiny Talk

All the talk is about tiny apartments and how they could lead to poor amenity as a large portion of the population moves to the inner city and the apartments continue to shrink.

But what about those who choose to go tiny as an environmental and financial statement?

The tiny house movement is coming to Australia, starting in the nation’s capital it would seem.

The ABC has reported that Canberra man, Andrew Clapham, is planning to build his new tiny home largely with reclaimed materials in the back yard of his parents’ home.

Mr Clapham sees it as a great option for young people, who have very few options to get into the housing market and he’d like to see the tiny house movement grow in Australia.

This is a trend which started in the US and in many ways is a social movement about reducing the size of the space you take up and escaping mortgage debt. 68 per cent of tiny house owners have no mortgage. For more stats, visit:

And if you Google ‘tiny house movement’ you’ll find plenty of blogs with people wanting to tell the story of how they downsized, with instructions on how to go about it.

Take this one for example:

This is a nice idea while you’re asleep – just don’t plan on holding any parties!

Walking behaviour threatens Melbourne's liveability

According to a recent Age article, Melbourne’s vibrant and bustling streets are now suffering from their own success as well as a decline the traditional etiquette of ‘keeping left’, amplified by new distractions such as smart phones.

Image credit: City of Melbourne

The City of Melbourne’s Share Our Streets program will kick it up a gear this week, with the introduction of actors ‘walking badly’ to educate walkers. “Actors with giant phones will wander the streets pretending not to pay attention to where they are going. Meanwhile cards will be handed out with tips, including advising cyclists to give way to pedestrians and for those on foot to walk to the left.”

For more information please refer to either The Age article or The City of Melbourne’s Share Our Streets.

Banner image credit: Alastair Campbell

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:

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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
Image source: 
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?

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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?