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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

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?

Read more:

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”

Dementia friendly urban design

When you think about urban design and designing for the people, the question is, which people?

There are so many challenges in balancing the needs of the people in a big city – as the saying goes you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Certainly here in Australia and in many western countries we need to keep our focus on designing for an ageing population, which also means designing for a population with reduced mobility.

Recently we wrote about some great work in the United States, with a guide on developing inclusive cities that support people with autism.

Right now in Perth there is a former school principal who is working with Alzheimer’s Australia, funded by the Western Australian government, to encourage urban design that is dementia friendly.

With a rare form of the disease called Benson’s Syndrome, Dr Glenda Parkin, is now travelling around Australia with her husband on their ‘memory bus’, to talk about simple things like the contrast on signage and the need to make cities easier to navigate for people with dementia.

With 900,000 Australians predicted to have dementia by the year 2050, this is another important factor to be considered when coming up with your next piece of work in the public realm.

Barcelona takes the Mayors’ prize


Bloomberg Philanthropies, former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg’s charitable organization, has announced its winners of the 2014 Mayors’ Challenge Urban Revitalization competition. Each of the 155 entrants had different social, urban and/or transportation issues challenging them, with the winners being selected based on the ease of their solution’s translation to other cities.

The grand-prize winner (Barcelona) will receive 5 million Euros to implement their plan of a trust support network for their ageing population. The remaining four winners (Athens, Kirklees, Stockholm and Warsaw) will each receive 1 million Euros.

With the competition expanding from US cities in 2013 to European cities this year, perhaps the next edition will feature entrants closer to home. What challenges do you think we face, and how would you solve them?

Follow the link more details on the competition:

Plug in City!! 2014, 2000, 1961…

Modulated housing, building on infrastructure, cities in transition…issues confronting many of the world’s great cities right now.

I recently stumbled across the work of artist Alain Bublex and his project ‘Plug In City’ which began in 2000.

Since 2000, artist Alain Bublex has been exploring the idea of modular additions to existing infrastructure in his work. He even takes it to the nth degree with the image above manipulating the Eiffel Tower with a series of modular additions!

His images are evocative of a moving, changing, dynamic urban world. A construction process that is never-ending, emphasised in his work by the cranes and helicopters flying in modules.

The idea he shares in his computer rendered photomontages is a utopian one he relates back to the ideas of Archigram, a group of British Architects working in the 1960s led by Peter Cook. The Archigram team explored the idea of modular building and super structures based on infrastructure as a response to the post-war housing shortage and the need to rebuild cities. The concept of modular building and its opportunities were highly popular in the post war period but Archigram in particular explored this concept through drawing and model making. In a few of Peter Cook’s sketches below we can see the origins of many of the forms in Alain Bublex’s work.

Source: ad-classics-the-plug-in-city-peter-cook-archigram
A ‘Plug in City’ as described by Archigram was one that grew through the additional of modules attached to existing and new infrastructure that created a highly visible super structure to support the functioning of the city.

The idea that Archigram and Peter Cook explored has influenced many architects and planners. The Pompidou Centre, Paris, exhibits some of Alain Bublex’s work, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano (1971-1977). The building itself explored the idea of modulation and controversially the supporting elements of the building formed the highly visible structure (a micro level exploration of the ideas). Fittingly in another if Bublex’s explorations above he shows the Pompidou Centre and its outer structure being extended and forming part of the super structure of the city.

Today, maybe modular building as an underpinning concept for urban planning has got a somewhat jaded name for itself and often in the same sentence as repetitive, cheap and boring, but oh the possibilities!!!....

Banner source:

Walkability and vitality with one small change

The planners in San Francisco have come up with a simple way to promote alternative forms of transport (like old fashioned walking) while meeting the urban design mantra of creating an ‘active frontage’ at street level in commercial areas… and all by changing one small thing in their planning schemes. They’re allowing existing private garages to be converted to shops, housing and service spaces.

The format of dwelling construction in suburbs like Castro probably makes this concept more effective given the proliferation of row housing with garaging at ground level in these old neighbourhoods. We think it’s a great concept though, by simply removing a couple of barriers in the Planning Schemes there is potential to have a significant impact on the walkability and vitality of a place.

If this concept sounds a bit familiar, that’s because it is. This concept isn’t that dissimilar to Melbourne’s now famous laneways where the Melbourne City Council encouraged conversion of former service lanes at the back of shops to lively spaces full of art, cafĂ© culture, bars, restaurants and music venues. Perhaps there are some other suburban centres around Melbourne where this approach may also work?

Read more:


Banner source: Tom Radulovich on Streetsblog SF

The missing link

As more and more people live in cities, the need for natural spaces and landscapes has become a self-evident truth. The search for greenery or the longing for ‘greenification’ (like the Dutch put it) is intensifying but not fast enough to catch up with urban expansion and the rise of towers.

There is no denial that the concept of sustainability is acknowledged in most global cities with initiatives, strategies and objectives (although often on paper) integrated into larger plans. We grow accustomed to seeing parks, rooftop gardens, vertical walls and other green technological advances, which are all contributing to the making of a responsible urban environment.

However, what we call nature is merely the result of human intervention. Melbourne’s natural landscape itself was man shaped, as is apparent from the creation of two islands in the Yarra River.
“Measures such as sky gardens or vertical greenery leave a veneer of green, but don’t create the spaces needed for interesting encounters with nature.” said landscape architect Andrew Grant.
So how can people feel good in a city? Are human beings able to connect and be inspired by an urban landscape or is it time to truly reconnect people with nature? Some suggest that we are able to go beyond these elegant landscaped facades and let the wilderness take over what was once its own.


Can we create an emotional bridge between people and cities?

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Places for playing games

Getting people moving and playing in public was one of the objectives when game designers set out to reclaim some of the streets of Glasgow as part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Program.

Glasgow has been undergoing a significant regeneration in preparation for and as a by-product of hosting the recent Commonwealth Games. As one of the key objectives in any city hosting a Commonwealth or Olympic games is finding ways to get the local community moving and active with physical activity leading to more healthy lifestyles over time… not just sitting and watching the athletes do it.

But the group developing Scotch Hoppers as part of the cultural program discovered there are some barriers you need to overcome to get people comfortable enough to play on the streets. In particular you need the games to be familiar, make it clear it’s not just for the kids, be flexible in how the game can be played and make things safe.

As Game Designer Holly Gramazio explains “Play is a unique and compelling way to relate to your environment, a way of being at home and at peace.”

Around the world there is a growing trend of gaming developed in an urban environment, including international street games festivals. Groups like the Invisible Playground in Germany, partner with cultural organisations and incorporate music, digital gaming, street theatre to “create site specific games using cities as platforms for play”.

In Australia there are plenty of examples of ‘pop-ups’ – perhaps these are our version of getting people active in their places.

The Fresh Air festival at Fed Square in Melbourne involves a pop up playground bringing together international game designers for outdoor games and new sports.

Source: Dandenong Pop Up Park from the Department of Justice

In a Penrith trial, the objective is to create a better urban environment to attract investment, whereas Dandnenong’s pop up park has more socially based aims. Government funded and run by Mission Australia, the park provides a range of flexible access to sporting, gardening and recreational facilities that people in the area may not have built into their environment at the outset.

Good urban design will encourage people to utilise their places for all kinds of purposes – looking at how people use the streets for play perhaps gives us some pretty good ideas of the ideal approach to urban design.

 Banner image from the

Getting engaged

I went along to one of the City of Sydney’s Design Excellence forums this week, the topic being Cultural Precinct Planning. This session explored the upcoming cultural precinct development and ways in which it should, if done right, re-energise Sydney, improve visitor experiences and better connect its cultural assets.

One of the recurring themes was connectivity – between cultural precincts and most importantly to the rest of the city. No longer are we talking about isolated ‘islands’ of cultural snobbery, but the word of the evening was: porosity!

Bruce Baird AM, Chair of the Tourism and Transport Forum, made some interesting and ‘on the ground’ observations in the panel that followed. One of the biggest issues for tourism in Sydney is way finding; visitors arrive at Circular Quay and get lost in the labyrinth that is the Sydney CBD, likely missing many of the city’s more memorable landmarks and attractions.

This sounds simple, ‘get more signs’ you cry – but in this international city how many languages should they be in? How many signs are too many? How do we balance the visual clutter?

So the conversation turned to technology – free Wi-Fi in the city, having App’s for tourists to download and use to showcase the best Sydney has to offer with easy-to-follow directions to get there – in every language. In theory this is excellent, but does it rule out the non-technologically advanced demographic? And what happens when technology fails us? All interesting points for further discussion.

But an initiative called ‘Hello Lamp Post’ that kicked off in Bristol is an interesting take on literally engaging with the city. It’s an interactive system offering residents and visitors an opportunity to talk to the locals – all facilitated by physical infrastructure in the city. The aim of ‘Hello Lamp Post’ is to ‘give people the chance to rediscover their local environment, to share personal memories of the city and discover the stories that others leave scattered. The project represents a chance to slow down, reflect and indulge with permission to play’.


‘Hello Lamp Post’, developed by PAN Studio, Tom Armitage and Gyorgyi Galik, won the 2013 Playable City Award. The international award encourages entrants to use creative technologies that surprise, challenge and engage people to explore the city from a different point of view.

Although not directly marketed for tourists, this concept has the potential to aid a tourist’s navigation of the city – the ability to ask questions of the city is also something I’m intrigued about. How interesting/revealing would it be to record the curiosities of international tourists for your city? This could also lead to recognising and solving some of the most common problems tourists face in a city…. the possibilities are endless.

Read more here:

Banner source: Creative Sydney