Australia Urban Design Awards 2015

PIA has announced the winners of the 2015 Australia Award for Urban Design.

Winners include:

Brookfield Place, an inner-Perth city block takes out the main gong – the award for a large scale delivered outcome. The project transformed a block left vacant for 30 years into an inviting and engaging public realm.

The Hart’s Mill area in Port Adelaide South Australia takes the award for small scale delivered outcome, and revitalises the wharf surrounds of former milling buildings.

A Melbourne-derived potential smartphone app Home:LIFE takes the award for large-scale concept, representing a cutting-edge collaboration between industry and academia, alongside the Sunshine Coast Light Rail plan that wins for large-scale policy, aiming to integrate public transport into linear coastal urban development.

Fremantle’s Victoria Quay Enabling Precinct Plan takes the award for small-scale policies, programs and concepts, aiming to unlock the potential of the quay, station and park precincts of Fremantle Port to transform them into commercial destinations.

PIA CEO Kirsty Kelly, says she is proud most of the winning urban designs relate to the innovative reuse of spaces for public use, or as is the case with one winner, an innovative web-based planning tool:

“Good urban design creates more attractive, enjoyable and vibrant places for people to live, work and play. High quality urban design is important to improve the liveability as density in our cities increases.” Ms Kelly says, “The economic contribution of urban design is well documented – quite simply, people prefer to spend more time and money in places that are well designed. These awards recognise a range of places that are adding significant social and economic value to their communities.”

“I would like congratulate everyone involved in the projects we celebrate tonight, and thank all those that entered,” Ms Kelly said “By holding the Award each year we remind the community of the critical importance of planning, design and innovation in our ever-changing built environment.”

Delivered Outcome – Large Scale

Award – Brookfield Place

Project Team – HASSELL, Fitzpatrick + Partners & Brookfield

Commendation – Sydney Light Rail Inner West Extension

Project Team –HBO+EMTB Urban Landscape Design, Transport for NSW & Aurecon

Commendation – Dandenong Civic Centre

Project Team – rushwright associates; Lyons Architecture & Material Thinking

Delivered Outome – Small Scale

Award – Port Adelaide Renewal: Hart’s Mill Surrounds

Project Team – Aspect Studios, Mulloway Studio & Renewal SA

Commendation – RMIT University A’Beckett Urban Square

Project Team – Peter Elliott Architecture + Urban Design, Arup, Taylor Cullity Lethlean & DCWC

Commendation – The Jewell of Brunswick

Project Team – Moreland City Council, Victoria Police, Department of Justice & Melbourne Water

Commendation – Sydney Water Mural Program

Project Team – Sydney Water

Policies, Programs & Concepts – Large Scale (Two awards given)

The committee felt that this category divided into two groups – concepts and policies without physicality and those related to place. Two projects were awarded.

Award – Home:LIFE Making Livable Affordable & Sustainable Housing Choices

Project Team – SJB Urban & RMIT University

Award – Sunshine Coast Light Rail: Shaping Our Future

Project Team – Sunshine Coast Council & HASSELL

Commendation – Better Apartments Policy

Project Team – NSW Department of Planning and Environment

Policies, Programs & Concepts – Small Scale

Award – Victoria Quay Enabling Precinct Plans

Project Team – CODA, Fremantle Ports, Allerding & Associates & Creating Communities

Commendation – A Performative Landscape

Project Team – Schored Projects


For more information on the winners and commendations (including citations) click here


Utopia: Series 2 coming soon!

man with broken leg on chair

Series 2 of our favourite satirical drama Utopia will be screening soon on ABC TV. Starting on Wednesday 19 August at 9pm, we hope this series exceeds our expectations. With the tag line: “The multi award-winning satirical comedy about a group of people charged with building this nation – one white elephant at a time” surely it will be a winner!

To see the trailer click here.

Life in a windowless box: the vertical slums of Melbourne

By Ralph Horne, RMIT University and Megan Nethercote, RMIT University

Australia’s apartment boom is in full swing. Nationally, 40% of new dwellings are now apartments or units, and building approvals outnumber those for houses. Melbourne and Brisbane are the most extreme cases, but these trends are national; and they are fundamentally reshaping the future of urban Australia.

In Melbourne, for example, the inner city is being flooded with 1-2 bedroom micro-apartments set in increasingly tall towers (+30 storeys). Almost half are under 50 square metres – not much bigger than a generous double garage. These would be outlawed in other world cities, including Sydney. The Property Council of Australia and much of the industry acknowledges the problem. Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne has now released a discussion paper, and there is a plan for new guidelines next year.

The differences between a small one bedroom 42 m2 apartment and a standard one bedroom 50 m2 apartment.
RIBA Homewise – The Case for Space: The size of England’s new homes. Included in Future Living, City of Melbourne, 2013

The market is not delivering what families need, and as a result, future liveability in Australian cities is in jeopardy. Much of the commentary is about size and density. An urgent discussion is also needed about quality and the market.

Reports of “vertical slums” are not entirely unwarranted. Apartments can be great homes – why are ours so mismatched with families and affordability concerns? For working families in the city who need access to services and work, there are few affordable alternatives.

Quality vacuum – a race to the bottom

Many new apartments have bedrooms with no windows, low ceilings and inadequate storage. They have poor access to natural light and ventilation, and underperform on environmental efficiency. Internal amenity of apartments is comparatively under-regulated. Apartment bedrooms without windows, for instance, are illegal in New York, Hong Kong and Vancouver.

An example of the features included in a ‘poor’ housing development.
Future Living, City of Melbourne 2013

Current regulation is failing families and future Australians. Building Code of Australia (BCA) and National Construction Code (NCC) requirements, borne out of original concerns with safety, are seemingly inadequate to the delicate task of ensuring quality while enabling innovation. Even the Guidelines for Higher Density Development (DPCD 2004) fail to provide specific and measurable outcomes, with high-level objectives that are evidently easily bypassed in practice.

Melbourne’s apartment construction boom continues unabated

Marketing airspace – unconstrained towers

A recent report unfavourably compares Melbourne’s high-rise rules to those of world cities. Developers in Melbourne can build at four times the densities allowed in New York, Tokyo or Hong Kong. Moreover, inner city developers are generally under no obligation to contribute to essential public infrastructure, such as affordable housing and community facilities, through density bonus systems. The findings are nothing short of damning, not least for a city that prizes itself, year on year, as the “world’s most liveable city”.

Market-driven urban development “logic” is rarely questioned, but there’s evidence of wholesale market failure. Much of our high density, high-rise apartment stock caters to the local and overseas investor market, enticed by favourable taxation and regulatory regimes. Putting aside concerns about the potential impact of tightening regulations on foreign property investments, many new apartments seem basically unaligned to households’ and families’ changing needs.

Two priorities emerge: for reform, and for understanding changing housing needs.

Reform or regret

Hodyl’s report makes a case for urgent market reforms to establish density controls; density bonuses to link development to public benefit, including open spaces, affordable housing and community facilities and an enforceable tower separation rule to mandate the minimum distances between towers. It also argues that Melbourne would benefit from apartment standards.

In Sydney, guidelines and processes have long been in place to regulate minimum apartment sizes, maximum numbers of apartments per floor, requirements for window provision, minimum floor-to-ceiling heights and minimum storage sizes (SEPP 65).

Reforms towards “good design” pre-suppose an understanding of the future occupants of apartments and their housing needs. A recent study found “good design” is a reasonably uncontroversial concept: it is design that accommodates changing household comfort and needs, and contributes positively to the environment, health, wellbeing and safety.

A current study called the LATCH Project is underway to determine changing household needs and the everyday experiences of inner-city apartment dwellers, including families.

The research reveals the huge diversity of households – future apartment dwellers are not just single-person households and empty-nesters. They need daylight, functioning kitchen spaces, storage, nearby schools and open space. Things that currently fail to align with high-density developments across our cities.

The Conversation

Ralph Horne is Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor, Research & Innovation; Director of UNGC Cities Programme; Professor at RMIT University.
Megan Nethercote is Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Research at RMIT University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Tactical Urbanism in Action

chalk rainbow Oxford St path

If you have not heard of tactical urbanism, you may be missing one of the latest urban trends.

Tactical urbanism refers to low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places. Tactical urbanism may also be referred to as guerilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism or D.I.Y. urbanism.

Place Partners in Sydney is a strong advocate of interventions that create better places for people and recently held a workshop to look at tactical urbanism opportunities in one of Australia’s best known urban streets: Oxford Street, Sydney (home of the Sydney Mardi Gras).

people at whiteboardpresentation on screen

A workshop facilitated by Kylie Legge of Place Partners and Ryan Reynolds of Gap Filler was held at the end of February. From this workshop three ideas for action were decided upon:

Bringing the Rainbow Up Oxford Street

chalk rainbow Oxford St Sydney

With Mardi Gras approaching, it seemed like a great time to bring back the much loved Rainbow Crossing to Oxford Street – but this time, in a much safer way!

The proposal was to colour a chalk rainbow on the black asphalt between South Dowling Street and the Verona Cinema on the City of Sydney side (we did not want to install on expensive bluestone that would put the Council offside). This was a great way to test a response – if it was well liked by the public, we may be in a better position to lobby for a more permanent installation. The project draws on the goodwill associated with Mardi Gras and would hopefully pull some people a little further up Oxford Street than they would otherwise go for a great photo opportunity, in a space of relatively low-patronage.

UPDATE: This project has been completed and was up for one week before the Council removed it after Mardi Gras. The photos and a summary have been sent to the City of Sydney to suggest a permanent installation (with paint) nearby. Please contact Chris at if you have any other ideas for projects elsewhere on Oxford St.

Shopfront Art Gallery

The Shopfront Art Gallery will be utilising shop windows to place some great artworks in otherwise overlooked spaces along Oxford Street. The project will collaborate with UNSW Art and Design to take care of insurance, liability, selecting the students/artist, hosting the website and the potential to sell work. The second step will be site assessment and contacting owners, including spaces such as the old box office at Verona, or the empty shop at Willow. Then… installation!

Manpower required: Some really great artists to put their hands up as well as people to help out with install. Three people on the team currently.

Timeline: Aiming to have talked to UNSW Art and Design and decided on formalities/project set up within one week. Aiming for at least 4 installations done within one month.

Contact: Please email Nam at ASAP to offer your time.

Oxford Street Story Telling

What would happen if Oxford Street had a voice? Rather than growling ‘For Lease’ or ‘Stop’, what if the street suddenly serenaded us with positive messages or inspiring quotes from literature, film and fashion? The aim of this project is to activate rundown walls and under used spaces on Oxford Street through the use of poetic, thought provoking, attention grabbing words. These will be applied to selected areas as pasteups.

Manpower required: We need people to help come up with the quotes, design, any of the graphics and help choose the location of installations. Any help would be appreciated! So far there are 5 people on the team.

Timeline: Aiming for minimum 4 installs within one month, hoping for 8. Send through your ideas to get this project moving immediately!

Contact: Please email Ariella at ASAP to offer your time.


If you are interested in being involved in any of these Sydney-based projects, please contact the people above, or email if you have an idea for another project.

We look forward to hearing more about the latest tactical urbanism installations in Sydney and elsewhere.


Building Healthy Places

Building Healthy Places cover page

Strategies to improve health outcomes in developments, such as providing protected bikeways, minimising noise pollution, and offering amenities such as community gardens, are highlighted in a new publication from the Urban Land Institute, the Building Healthy Places Toolkit.

The Toolkit outlines 21 practical, evidence-based recommendations that the development community can use to promote health at the building or project scale.

These include:

On physical activity:

  • Incorporate a mix land uses (to reduce the need to drive from place to place)
  • Design well-connected street networks at the human scale
  • Provide sidewalks and enticing, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes
  • Provide infrastructure to support biking
  • Design visible, enticing stairs to encourage frequent use
  • Install stair prompts and signage
  • Provide high-quality spaces for multigenerational play and recreation
  • Build play spaces for children

bike lane on Sydney city streetoptically permeable staircase

On healthy food and drinking water:

  • Accommodate a grocery store
  • Host a farmers market
  • Promote healthy food retail
  • Support on-site gardening and farming

raised vegetable garden beds

On healthy environment and social well-being:

  • Minimise noise pollution
  • Increase access to nature
  • Facilitate social engagement
  • Adopt pet-friendly policies

The report illustrates the application of the recommendations to seven real estate typologies – master-planned communities, multifamily, mixed-use, office, industrial, single-family, and retail.

3d sketch of multifamily development

The Building Healthy Places Toolkit is part of ULI’s Building Healthy Places initiative, an ongoing program of work to shape projects and places in ways that improve the health of people and communities.



People oriented city planning

Kingston foreshore buildings Canberra

Jan Gehl’s recent visit to Canberra brought with it a reminder and a clear message that cities are for people.

The history of many cities, particularly those designed and constructed in large part through the 1960s and 70s, has been to design for the car.

Canberra like many other Australian cities has made half-hearted and piecemeal attempts to tame the car, this has come in the form of pedestrian malls in the city centre, and the occasional lacklustre public square.

The public life of Canberra certainly suffers from the spread out nature of its suburbs and multiple centres and has been designed in plan view, with little thought for the human experience, particularly for those attempting to walk through its spaces.

Gehl’s concept of a human scale city is one which is designed for a person walking through the space at 5km/h. At this speed we see detail and can identify people, and at this pace there is the need for small scale visual interest and interaction. Cities designed for car use, tend towards big block development, open expanses and limited pedestrian scale detail.

Useful measures of success, when considering whether a city is designed for people include:

  • Is it accessible for a 7-8 year old (does it allow them to move around independently and safely)
  • Number of cultural events
  • Weekend visitors to the city centre (not just a place for office workers)
  • Number of evening activities such as restaurants, concerts etc.

While it was disappointing that Gehl didn’t provide much commentary on Canberra (hard to do within a brief visit), his advice to remove 50% of the asphalt certainly wouldn’t go astray.

From this perspective that would mean less surface car parks, more buildings with ground floor activity and smaller scale elements between existing big box developments and the street or surrounds. Sections of Canberra that have begun to experience some of this human scale development include Braddon, New Acton/East Acton and Kingston Foreshore.

cone sculpture at New Acton

Let’s hope that next time a Gehl Architects representative comes to Canberra the same can be said for other activity centres such as Woden Town Centre, Mawson and Weston Group Centres (to name a few). As these spaces, while delivering retail floorspace and convenient car parking, are underwhelming as places for people.

Canberrans love Canberra for many valid reasons including it’s clean, unpolluted air and water, it’s extensive outdoor recreation system, the ease of travel (by car mainly, or bike if you are fit) and the employment and education options available.

However for Canberra to continue as one of the worlds most liveable cities and become a vibrant city loved by visitors as well as residents, there will need to be a greater focus on human scale development, transport choice (not just cars), public meeting places, connected pedestrian and cycle networks and greater housing choice (not only detached houses on individual blocks or apartments, but more townhouses, terrace houses, cohousing, supportive housing etc).

Focusing on places for people, and ensuring that the overriding objective of putting people first in the design and planning of any new place or development, would support a more vibrant and active Australian capital.

The Public City: Essays in Honour of Paul Mees

the public city bookcover

How can we improve city life? That is one of the questions that the book ‘The Public City‘, honouring the late Associate Professor Paul Mees seeks to answer.

Co-edited by RMIT University’s Dr Beau B Beza and Melbourne University’s Brendan Gleeson, it is a tribute to RMIT’s Associate Professor Mees, one of the world’s great activist scholars,who died last year. His urban ideal counted on a watchful, confident and
well-informed citizenry to work collectively in a quest for fair and just cities.

Fifteen of Australia and New Zealand’s leading urban scholars, including Professor Emeritus Jean Hillier and Professor Gleeson, have contributed to the book.
The Public City includes a foreword by the late Professor Sir Peter Hall, a world leader in urban planning from Britain.

The collective works in the book draw upon Associate Professor Mees’ ideas as well as providing a blueprint for the improvement of civic and institutional purpose in the creation of the public city. The works also provide personal insights into his life.

The Public City: Essays in Honour of Paul Mees, will be launched next week. Father Bob Maguire, recently named as one of Victoria’s 20 Living Treasures in the Herald Sun newspaper, will open The Public City launch, hosted by RMIT’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies and the Centre for Urban Research.

What: Book Launch – The Public City: Essays in Honour of Paul Mees
When: Thursday, 4 December, 6.30pm
Where: Pearson & Murphy Café, 124 La Trobe St, Melbourne, enter from rear of
RMIT Building 1.
Cost: Free (RSVP through )