London Underground - reimagined!

Alternates to the London Underground map

The Death and Life of...

Planning for our future (figuratively speaking)...

Urban greening in high density environments

Creating 'Vertical Forests' in high density residential developments

Blank walls, not so blank

Side walls are a canvas on which anything can be drawn, you name it.

This is certainly not a new concept unveiled by a trendy street artist, for example, the trompe l’oeil technique was used as early as the medieval time and flourished throughout the Renaissance especially on churches’ walls. On a less spiritual note, walls were also used in our growing capitalist societies using ghost signs (hand-painted advertisements on blank walls of buildings) to promote businesses, from the local butcher to Coca-Cola. These have now been replaced by printed ads on walls or gigantic screens on top of roofs. And sometimes walls are simply left blank…
Coca-Cola ghost sign
Mural by Robert Hass (1975)
Fake facades
Yes, too often naked walls sit sadly on a boundary waiting patiently for another wall to be built next door, but how long can this take? And who wants to stare at a plain concrete façade for years? (Maybe Le Corbusier would have enjoyed the view of such a façade!)

All walls have a purpose and when they are not used to provide amenity to the residents of a building, they can mesmerise the eyes of local pedestrians or tell us a story.

Breathing life into a wall is not an easy task however there are a multitude of techniques and materials out there which will add a touch of eccentricity to a conventional development, brighten a gloomy rundown building or completely transform a streetscape. Even concrete has managed to win us back by offering some original designs and take the idea a step further.

Photoengraving - Edison residence
Montreal designers came up with the innovative technique of photoengraving images on concrete using original blank and white photographs of Montreal’s fire department and juxtaposing them on the walls of a residential building (

No more excuses for boring blank façades!

Urban provocations - apologies to lovers of the Big Merino

Apologies to lovers of the Big Merino.

Our colleagues at David Lock Associates in the UK collect examples of what they call ‘urban provocations’ – featuring some of the most provocative examples of urban development – and turn them into a series of postcards.

And by provocative, we think they mean terrible! 

Essentially people haven’t looked at the big picture or seen the possibilities (or maybe the risks) in the way they have built or developed their bit of the world.

A recent call for some local input had us rifling through the photo collections and we found a few amusing examples (unless of course you happen to live in the area!).

Billboard in Southbank 
Melbourne, circa 2006
Always consider the rear interface
The Big Merino (Sheep), Goulburn NSW, circa 2012
Infrastructure Priority (instead of Pedestrian Priority)
Dandenong VIC, circa 2006
Where's the lift? (Dumb leading the Blind)
New Thomastown train station, circa 2012 
Working around the problem
South Melbourne, circa 2007 
Our UK team will soon have a new set of Urban Provocations postcards and we suspect there might be a few Australian examples. If you’ve seen something equally silly or appalling, post it on Twitter and tag us with @DLA_Australia or send it to us by email

The team also looks for examples of excellence too, so if you’ve seen good examples we’d also love to see those. David Lock Associates in the UK also post their examples on Twitter every month, so you might want to follow them for ongoing examples

Photo Credit: Alastair Campbell



As Melbourne was once again ‘awarded’ the world’s most liveable city by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the discussion reignites about how relevant the index really is.

Sure it’s an excellent tourism angle, ‘one-ups’ us to our northern neighbours (see, you don’t need sunshine to be liveable!), and it certainly fuels the self-congratulation of Melbourne’s planners, bureaucrats and politicians.

With some of the world’s best education, healthcare, sporting, cultural facilities, there’s no denying that Melbourne has some amazing assets. In 2011 CNN’s travel team outlined ‘50 reasons Melbourne is the world's most livable city’, highlighting the coffee, the football, the shopping and the live music. And tourists flock by the millions to participate in this unique city.

But what about actually living here?

What about getting public transport from Kensington to Fitzroy? The 5km journey will take you more than 30 minutes using a train/tram combination, and much longer after 7pm.

And what about buying a beer, or renting an apartment?

The Economist Intelligence Unit also puts out a bi-annual Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, which Melbourne ranked as the 6th most expensive city in the world. Clearly the liveability and cost of living surveys are not cross-referenced.

Urban Gateway recently questioned if the index was ‘biased and racist’, noting that the top ten most liveable cities largely white British Commonwealth countries: Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Auckland. Only Vienna in Austria and Helsinki in Iceland are not former British colonies and they, too, are white.

In their discussion of last year's EIU survey, the author from Future CapeTown quoted Paul James, the Director of the Global Cities Institute (and a resident of Melbourne), on the EIU ranking which placed this city at number one last year as well:
“Melbourne by any measure is a bloated, sprawling, congested and completely unsustainable city. On sustainability measures such as urban footprint we rank as badly as London and worse than New York. For every person in the city, we own almost one petrol-consuming vehicle, and that figure includes all the babies who do not yet have a licence and all the elderly who have stopped driving.”
But of course this debate about what it means to be liveable ultimately adds value to the concept, and it certainly helps to sell magazines.

What do you think? Is Melbourne’s re-crowning warranted? And does it help or hinder our domestic planning and design challenges?

Banner image source:

Ping Pong activation

Public Outdoor Ping Pong offers a unique place-making focus that provides dynamic, long-term improvements for community spaces.

Public Outdoor Ping Pong, a Perth-based company pairing communities with permanent, weather-proof and free-to-use outdoor table tennis tables.

Known as POPP, they make, paint and install 700kg, steel tables that are designed as both sporting infrastructure and art installations. POPP has now installed over 120 tables across Australia, in a diverse mix of locations, and for each we have seen great success in how they have activated open spaces and engaged communities.

RMIT Urban Square
Source: POPP

Source: POPP

Craning for a look at Barangaroo

Barangaroo – there probably isn’t much we don’t know about ‘Sydney’s largest redevelopment project this century’ given the scale and the publicity it has received. Not to mention the controversy around James Packer’s casino resort proposal….

But did you know the name of the development, selected as part of a competition, is taken from a woman believed to be the wife of great warrior Bennelong, a significant figure during the time Sydney was colonised?

The waterfront site on the western edge of the Sydney CBD was previously 22 hectares of disused container wharves until excavation started in 2012. It is now in full blown construction mode proved by the permanently installed tower cranes (at last count ten) inhabiting the city’s skyline.

Aerial of Barangaroo
As a quick overview, the precinct is made up of three redevelopment areas - the 6 hectare Headland Park, Barangaroo Central and Barangaroo South.

Barangaroo Central is the cultural and civic heart of the site for recreation, events and entertainment. While Barangaroo South will accommodate the commercial centre supported by residential living.

The headland park is just as the name promises, but what excites me is connecting the missing piece of the puzzle to the rest of Sydney’s waterfront through a foreshore walk onto Walsh Bay and Darling Harbour.

The NSW Government has charged the Barangaroo Delivery Authority to make this $6 billion project happen which by its anticipated 2023 completion will accommodate over 23,000 workers and residents. The brief for Barangaroo as set out for the Authority is:

  • Be a precinct that will be studied for generations to come as a world benchmark for its bold and inspiring design, architecture and public domain, awarded for its authenticity, integration and diversity; 
  • re-establish a dynamic place for all of Sydney's people which is integrated, connected, secure - defined by its waterfront and CBD location; 
  • operate as an exemplar of the next generation in sustainable development by being climate positive. Barangaroo will uphold community wellbeing including health and fitness, and will value what matters to people and the planet; 
  • be financially viable with continuing profitability, maximising public returns and value to the people and businesses of Sydney; and 
  • add a new dimension to Australia's financial capital by integrating mixed use commercial, residential, retail, educational, civic, cultural and entertainment activities into an extended financial hub. 

So no pressure then….

See more at:

Humanise the dehumanised
Public art in global cities has made an incredible contribution in addressing contemporary urban issues by enhancing the quality of the urban environment, defining the city’s identity and improving the aesthetic quality of urban settings. The amalgamation of art in the public realm is also responsible for bringing together buildings and people; without it, we would be left with a dehumanised and desolated urban space.

Public art can take various forms, from historical visual art, street art manifestations to art performances or can even be reduced to a pure non-visual form such as sound.

With rising popularity and worldwide acknowledgement, public art has gone further into the abstract territory where our perception of art is challenged, where we are left stunned.

Public art installation in a western inner suburb (Footscray)

'Human Structures' in Vancouver by artist Jonathan Borofsky 
Photo credit: Jonathan Percy
Public art does not necessarily have to be provocative or controversial, its functional aspect has the ability to transform urban environments and bring life into monotone central business districts. 

The business precinct of La Defense is a good example. This CBD is internationally renowned for its uniqueness: an overlaying structure with high-rise buildings standing on a man-made horizontal elevated slab on the edge of Paris. The city’s innovative vertical structure had created an unfriendly environment dominated by concrete, sky-scraper like buildings and concealed open spaces however major transformation has turned public spaces into multi-functional spaces. 

La Defense, ‘La Grande Cantine’ installation by Talking Things and Jean Baptiste Hardoin (2012)
Photo Credit: Jessica Guirand 
Since 2010, a series of street furniture interventions have been added to respond to contemporary needs while initiating a conversation on the role and place of street furniture in the built environment. The latest edition of Public forms features 8 concepts created specifically for the residents, workers and visitors of La Defense.

The human scale of Public forms has multiple social, cultural and economic benefits on the urban environment. And obviously, there’s no need to be an art curator to get your head around it!

Slides by Alexandre Moronnoz
Dune street furniture system by Ferpect Collective

Know thy neighbour

It is difficult to foster a meaningful sense of community in high rise developments – in reality, dense vertical living can be socially isolating.

Even if you live in a building with scores of other people, the likelihood of you getting to know any of them is vastly diminished if the architecture encourages you to stay in your own apartment. Towers often lack common spaces that give people a reason to bump into each other or informally mingle - there's only so much interaction that can happen as people move directly from a foyer into a lift and then straight into their apartment.

Proposed mixed use development, Antwerp 
As densities are on the increase in our major cities, wouldn’t it be nice to know that design is legitimately taking into consideration the fostering of a greater degree of social interaction among its inhabitants. That a sense of community will not be lost in translation as housing moves ever skywards. Well one such Belgian architecture firm, C.F. Møller Architects in collaboration with Brut Architecture & Urban Design, have put this theory into practice in a high rise development in Antwerp. Social interaction has formed the underlying mantra of this new mixed use development. 

C.F. Møller & Brut’s 24-story building is grouped into ‘mini-communities’ – they have clustered similar apartment types together, such as family or student housing, opening up into balcony spaces and winter gardens. Residents share an inner courtyard, a roof terrace and a triple height indoor garden located on the upper most floors of the building. There’s also an onsite bike repair facility – so no more excuses for not exercising! And a communal dining area if you don't want to eat alone in your apartment. See you at dinner! 

It sounds like a winning blueprint to me.

Residents share an inner courtyardSource: Fast Code/Slicker City


‘Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design’, by Charles Montgomery, 2013

Read more here:

The CBDs creating prosperity

The CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne generate almost 10 per cent of all economic activity in Australia, and triple the contribution of the entire agriculture sector, according to the Grattan Institute’s latest report.

‘Mapping Australia’s Economy’ reports our capital cities are the drivers of prosperity for Australia as the economy has gone through significant change, moving to more knowledge intensive work.

Jane-Frances Kelly and Paul Donegan, who wrote the report, found 80 per cent of the value of all goods and services produced in Australia is generated on just 0.2 per cent of the nation’s land mass. CBD and inner city businesses are also more productive.

The interesting thing is that even in industries such as mining, many of the knowledge jobs are housed in the city. More than a third of WA mining jobs are in Perth CBD – roles like accountants, administrators and even some engineers.

But with this significant change in our economy, comes the requirement to have the workers close at hand. Too many people live too far away from the CBD to really help us achieve the most of our economic prosperity and to become truly efficient.

This is a major driver of much of the development and planning changes we see in our capital cities as we speak; the need to have the people where the action is and ensure we are as productive as possible. This is not just about apartments and housing, but also about transport and better infrastructure.

Read the report to better understand these trends:

Melbourne's urban forest visual tool

In a follow up to the heat island effect tool, the City of Melbourne has again come up with something really comprehensive. They have developed an Urban Forest Visual tool, which is an interactive map that allows you to explore Melbourne’s tree data (location, lifespan and genus). Both these tools are used as part of Urban Forest Strategy developed by council.

The main vision of the Urban Forest Strategy is to increase canopy cover in the city to make it greener, more liveable and sustainable. It outlines six strategies with clear targets that will contribute to achieving the vision. One of the targets is to increase public realm canopy cover by 18 per cent by 2040.

The tool maps all the information for 10 precincts in the City of Melbourne. It includes CBD and surrounding inner Melbourne suburbs like Carlton, Docklands, Southbank and others. They have used technologies like lidar and orthophotography to get accurate measures for canopy cover across the city.

We complete a visual comparison between trees planted in the last decade and trees that have less than a 10 year life expectancy in the CBD. It is shocking to see that the trees planted in last decade will not cover the loss – there are fewer than half what there should be to replace the canopy. If the ratio was at least 1:1, we could maintain the existing green infrastructure.

Trees having less than a 10 year life

Trees planted in last decade
The Canopy Graph demonstrates what the future will look like if we stop planting trees and what will happen if we plant new trees at a rate of approximately 3,000 trees per year to 2040 for all precincts. We would see a 19 per cent improvement if we planted these trees – a far better outcome for Melbourne’s future.

Trees not only contribute ecologically and environmentally but they have wider positive impacts in terms of social and economic values.

Melbourne's canopy graphed: with & without tree planting

One of the major issues stated in the Urban Forest Strategy is urban intensification and population growth. With growing development there is less control over the extent of vegetation on private land, reduction of permeable surfaces, lack of sunlight on streets and increased pressure on public spaces to accommodate more uses. It is vital for all new developments (major and small scale) to accommodate green spaces within their design where possible, like green roofs and walls.

The Council is also conducting workshops with the community. The next workshops will be in Parkville, Fishermans Bend, Southbank and South Wharf. If you are interested in receiving any further updates you can visit the website or email

Futuristic cycling

The bike design project is a competition that has recently been undertaken to develop the next wave of ‘urban utility bike’. High level design firms from around the US have teamed with specialist bicycle craftsmen in an attempt to take out the title that will see the winning design moved from concept to production, hitting bicycle shops by 2015.

Contestants were asked to develop a fully functioning, road tested prototype with Seattle based Teague + Sizemore Bicycles taking out the coveted prize with their ‘Denny’ design. The design provides an ‘all in’ cycling solution to meet safety, security and convenience needs of the commuter conceptualised from the premise of ‘an everyday bike that removes the barriers to becoming an everyday rider’.

The design includes a removable handlebar lock system, automatic gear shifting, electric power assist, and removable battery for easy charging and even comes with a cargo platform to strap down your tray for coffee. On top of this the bike comes complete with fully integrated turn signals, head and brake lights that react to natural conditions and safety lights that flood onto the road around the bike.

The Denny is the perfect bike for the environmentally conscious. However, if you are looking at leaving the car behind and jumping on the ‘Denny’ to strip away those extra kilos, the design may be somewhat counterintuitive with its automatic-gear shifters, and motors making it very similar to a standard moped. Nevertheless the sleek futuristic design sets an intriguing platform for the future of commuter cycling.