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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.

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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.

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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.

Image credit:

Image credit:

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.

Image credit:

Image credit:
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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