Thursday, December 9, 2010

Colours of the Web

Work starts on CBD Howard Smith Wharf redevelopment

Work has started on the redevelopment of one of Brisbane's last remaining pieces of untouched riverfront land.

Most of the 3.5 hectare site is expected to be made into public space at the end of the $17 million project that will transform the disused wharf into a park. It had been a concrete wasteland since it was last used in the 1980s.

Lord Mayor Campbell Newman said $4.1 million would be spent on a "super park", including planting 220 mature trees, 4200 square metres of turf and 2200 square metres of garden beds. Barbeques, picnic tables, and a children's playground will be installed and visitors will be able to access a grassy hill with views of the river and a rock climbing platform.

An air-conditioned glass elevator is to be built to provide easy access from the top of the cliffs.
Councillor Newman said $8.5 million would be used to restore and maintain the heritage wharf and buildings, which were last used in the 1980s by the water police.

“We are returning the Howard Smith Wharves back to the people of Brisbane as part of my vision to create a city of attractive parks, with at least 80 per cent of the site to remain open public space.”

He said timber would be used where possible during the remaining restoration works to match the heritage values of the site.

About 10 per cent of the site has been allocated for retail development, which could include a boutique hotel.

Council backed down from its original development plans when residents, led by Labor Councillor David Hinchliffe, threatened action in the Planning and Environment Court.

But in August the council rezoned the area to allow construction to go ahead, albeit with amended plans that include more open space and limiting the height of the hotel to the level of the clifftop.

BCC has approved another West End high-rise

Brisbane City Council is expected to continue its defiance of a state order to lower density in Brisbane's West End, by approving another 12-storey development in the area.
It will be the second such development to gain approval from council since Planning Minister Stirling Hinchliffe scaled back building heights in the area, known as Precinct Seven of the South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan, from 12 storeys to seven in August.

The first development is the subject of a court appeal by the West End Community Association. The second, the Water's Edge development in Duncan Street, West End, could attract the same attention.

Mr Hinchliffe rejected higher density in some areas of West End after he found there was not enough community infrastructure to support the extra people.

Local councillor Helen Abrahams has slammed council for continuing with plans to increase density after the minister's ruling, mirroring his concerns about the lack of social infrastructure.
Development Assessment chairman Amanda Cooper said the Water's Edge included 514 residential units and 2002 sq m of retail space and is the second stage of an earlier project of eight storeys.

Its eight-storey component was supported by Premier Anna Bligh at the time.
Cr Cooper said the development had been scaled back from 14 storeys to 12 and council considered it appropriate for the area.

"The site's proximity to the City, public transport, schools and other social infrastructure make it ideal for redevelopment.

"It's disused industrial sites like these that hold the key to accommodating growth in Brisbane while protecting the valuable tin and timber areas."

Cr Cooper said council was obligated to find 156,000 new dwellings under the State Government's South East Queensland Regional Plan.

"We understand that we have a responsibility to provide for growth, and we believe the best way to do that is to put higher density living into old industrial areas close to the City," Cr Cooper said.

"That way we can protect the leafy tin and timber suburbs and lifestyle Brisbane residents have come to love.

MVVA wins Gateway Arch Competition

The multi-disciplinary team lead by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates have been selected to proceed to the planning stage of the Gateway Arch Competition in St. Louis, Missouri. The jury chose the MVVA Team over four others competing to enliven the area around the Gateway Arch and connect it to downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi River and the Illinois bank.

The MVVA Team’s design concept narrative describes their vision for the redesigned park: “Responding to the Memorial’s monumental scale is the central challenge of this assignment. Given the site’s sheer immensity, sectional complexity, and competing scales—all in a parcel surrounded by a crushing maze of infrastructure—we believe that expanding the site’s scalar and experiential range is crucial to engaging the wide-ranging competition goals. The creation of a new range of more intimate experiences, based primarily in landscape, will be the main engine for the transformation of the Memorial and its relationship with both the city and the river. We imagine a powerfully connective landscape that operates simultaneously in several ways—a landscape that will not only draw visitors from around the world but also serve as a new locus of civic energy in the daily lives of the citizens of St. Louis. The redesigned Memorial will be a centerpiece of civic culture, an engine of regional economic growth, a showcase for sustainable ecological restoration, and a celebration of the national significance of this historic place".
The project will be constructed by Oct. 28, 2015, the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Arch.

LA Warehouse Office is a Shipping Container City

Pallotta TeamWorks is a charity event production company that runs bike races and other events. In 2002, they had grown out of their existing offices and needed more space, which they found in a large warehouse in the Atwater Village area of Los Angeles. The event company contracted Clive Wilkinson Architects to come up with a solution for creating an inspiring new headquarters inside the warehouse on a tight budget. The result is a shipping container city.

Pallotta TeamWorks found a good deal on the warehouse, but after running the numbers realized they wouldn’t be able to afford keeping the entire space air-conditioned — plus, they were working on a budget to build out the office. Clive Wilkinson Architects, who had come up with other creative solutions for warehouse spaces, conceived the idea to use shipping containers and large tents to create “breathing islands” inside the warehouse. These self-contained air-conditioned islands of activity provide space for each department within the company and gives them each an identity, and it also takes visual cues from the charity events and races the company produces.

Narrow “streets” connect each department together in a mini-city, while a larger container tower (three tall), serves as the “executive tower”. Clive Wilkinson’s design for the Pallotta TeamWorks headquarters received a design award from the AIA in 2002 for creating a lively work environment in a warehouse with reduced energy usage despite a low construction budget.

Artist Builds Incredible Coral Reef from Sunken Statues

Located off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, artist Jason deCaires Taylor has created an incredible artificial reef of statues he calls the Silent Evolution. A compelling installation that took several months to complete, Silent Evolution embodies a spirit that shifts between sadness and awe, all while reminding us of the intricate relationship between man and nature.

Retro-Futurism: 13 Failed Urban Design Ideas

Many an architect has dreamed up visionary plans for city centers, but few have actually seen their designs come to fruition in a real live urban setting. And while many such unbuilt concepts are technically viable, others are wacky, fanciful or downright bizarre. These retro urban design ideas for the future, from perfectly symmetrical egalitarian communities to the egotistical demands of a deranged dictator, will probably never become reality – and in many cases, we’re better off that way.
Gillette’s Metropolis

Gillette had a utopian vision for the future which revolved around a waterfall-powered tiered city he dubbed ‘Metropolis’. All residents of this imagined city would have access to the same amenities including rooftop gardens in the perfectly round, precisely divided multi-functional buildings in which they would live, work, play and eat. The design never went anywhere, but it’s notably similar to many very modern 21st-century concepts for sustainable urban centers.

This concept, published in a 1947 issue of Life magazine, detailed how to atomic bomb-proof America by spreading the population across the land in a geometric grid and relocating all industry into underground structures so that any single bomb would do a minimum of damage. The whole plan would have cost a measly 5 trillion dollars in today’s currency, and the authors – atomic scientists from Chicago – thought it could be pulled off within a decade.
Hotel Attraction

Antoni Gaudi’s architecture defines Barcelona, Spain even today with its fluid curves, reflective surfaces and organic shapes – but it would stick out like a sore thumb in the comparatively staid cityscape of Manhattan. Perhaps that’s what he had in mind for ‘Hotel Attraction’, commissioned in 1908 and also known as the Grand Hotel. The rounded, spaceship-like form would have risen in the exact spot where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were later built, but the idea was ultimately abandoned. Gaudi’s unrealized design was actually considered as a possibility for the Ground Zero memorial after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Ville Contemporaine

The architect known as Le Corbusier was an essential figure in the development of what we now know as modern architecture, and his many theoretical urban design projects aimed to make life better for residents of cramped cities. Displeased with the chaos of big cities, Le Corbusier designed ‘Ville Contemporaine’ as an orderly home to three million people where housing, industry and recreation all occupied distinct areas connected by roads that emphasized the use of personal vehicles for transportation.

Triton City
If not for a certain tell-tale 1960s aesthetic, Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Triton City’ could easily fit among today’s designs for floating eco-friendly cities. The futurist, architect and inventor was ahead of his time as usual when he imagined this tetrahedronal metropolis for Tokyo Bay, a seastead for up to 6,000 residents. Fuller wrote about the possibility of desalinating and recirculating seawater “in many useful and non-polluting ways” and using materials from obsolete buildings on land, which were hardly popular ideas at the time.
Future New York, “The City of Skyscrapers”

By 1925, many of New York City’s skyscrapers were already present, but futurists of the time envisioned not only a great deal more but a sort of aerial civilization complete with elevated train platforms and perhaps a rather unsafe number of aircraft flying around all at once.

New York City’s Dream Airport

This concept for “New York City’s Dream Airport” featured an astonishingly large – and some say ugly – runway platform. But for all of the prime real estate that this monstrosity would have devoured, it seems as if it could only handle a handful of planes at a time with absolutely zero margin of error, sending errant planes straight into Central Park or the East River.

Slumless, Smokeless Cities

How do you build a city so egalitarian that slums are eliminated entirely, and nobody ever has to breathe in pollution? Sir Ebenezer Howard, the father of the garden city movement, believed that a careful layout with six satellite garden cities connected via canals to a densely populated central city would do the trick. Thoughtfully, the design included specially designated spaces for “Eplileptic Farms”, “Homes for Waifs”, “Homes for Inebriates” and an insane asylum.


“Just imagine a resort entirely centered on the culture of alcohol. A boozer’s paradise built expressly to facilitate drinking and the good times that naturally follow. Where the bars, clubs and liquor stores never close.” Mel Johnson’s ‘Boozetown’ was an entirely sincere proposal with street names like “Gin Lane” and “Bourbon Boulevard” that would have begun as a resort town in Middle America and eventually expanded into a full-sized adults-only city with permanent housing and its own suburbs. After many obsessed years of struggling for financing, Johnson gave up on his dream in 1960 and died in a mental hospital in 1962.

Micro House in Tokyo Built On a Single Car Space

There have been alot of impossibly tiny houses designed and built recently, but this house has literally been built on a plot intended for a single car. Side Architects is a firm that specializes is micro homes, and when a client approached them for the design of a structure on a mini pie-shaped lot next to a busy Tokyo street, they knew exactly what to do. Capitalizing on all available space, every corner of the three-story home is utilized, with south facing floor-to-ceiling windows and a transparent interior moderating the packed dimensions.

The home is the result of the owners’ desire to have custom home in the city of Tokyo. However, given the lofted housing prices permeating throughout the metropolis, they took their limited budget and joined the kyosho jutaku, or micro home trend, that is driving innovative design on the island nation.

Situated on a lot of only 30 square meters shaped like a slice of pizza, the home features a number of smart design initiatives that manage to make the most of the compacted space. The entrance to the home contains a spiral stair case that is able to save room by cutting the corners, thus becoming a triangle; tucked away storage is everywhere, behind walls, curtains and inside corners; and built-in furniture and mini appliances and fixture reduce the overall clutter. The exterior windows are shaded by louvers not only to reduce heat gain and noise, but to provide light and a views throughout the home.
The total cost of the design and construction rang in at half a million US dollars – or what you’d consider in Tokyo to be a 'bargain'.

COP16: Posters Depicting Designers’ Messages of Climate Change

If a picture is worth a thousand words, there’s a whole lot of talking going on right now at the Eleventh Annual Poster Biennial of Mexico. “Disenyadores por la tierra,” (Designers for the Earth) is an exhibition of poster design down at the COP16 Climate Change Village exploring the theme of the relationship between man and his environment.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Every month, the THG team get together with the team from Buckley Vann and chat about our shared experiences in the planning world. This month, Greg Vann took us through his recent study tours, with the overarching message that we are doing some great things in Brisbane - but good things take time, of which Europe is a prime example.

Greg spoke about the bike culture that exists in Europe, but what many of us aren't aware of is that this culture has taken decades to establish. While the single biggest thing that can be done to improve bike safety is to increase the number of people riding, sometimes we just have to start somewhere and get the ball rolling on initiatives that will eventually see us get to the number of riders seen throughout Europe (see THG's recent newsletter on CityCycle).

Greg's advice to us as fellow planners what that innovation takes time and picking battles is one way to achieve incremental change that adds up to a whole lot of change. Greg's focus has been on pinpointing specific locations or projects that can become demonstration projects for the future.

Essentially, Brisbane has done some good things when it comes to creating a city. The main issue is that our balance of transport is wrong - however that doesn't mean sweeping reforms are the way to go - if we just keep chipping away and there are demonstrated successes of schemes such as CityCycle and improved public transport use, change will be inevitable.

Interestingly, we all seem to be aware that the future of our industry is not going to be in developing land. What will our industry look like in 5 or 10 years time?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creating Artificial Reefs in Thailand.

Did you ever have a fish tank and put random objects in the bottom of the tank (such as pirate ships, treasure chests or figurines of scuba divers) for the fish to use as their houses? Thailand is doing the same thing now - only their fish tank is the ocean. The image above shows workers using an earthmover to push an old tank from a ship into the sea off Narathiwat province, southern Thailand in August this year. Twenty five junk tanks were transported from Bangkok and dumped at sea in the Gulf of Thailand to help forming artificial reefs and providing homes for fish.

Sociopolis: A Rurban Housing Project in Spain

Five years ago, a housing project called 'Sociopolis' - a shared habitat - was proposed for Valencia, Spain. This project was aimed at triggering social interaction between inhabitants, proposing a new type of housing for the family structures of our time, and offering an environment of high quality.

Now it's becoming reality; roads are being build, and trees are being planted.

The main focus is on the social actions that a neighborhood should trigger, in order to create well-being in the city. Looking back in history, the construction site used to be the fertile region of Valencia since the time of the arabs, with clever irrigation systems, orchards and vegetable gardens.
What happens usually when european cities grow, is that nature and agriculture gets pushed aside. Rural and urban become two opposites that are hardly connected. For the arabs however, the vegetable plantations were their gardens, that formed part of the landscape and provide food for each family.
For the architects Vicente Guallart, (and his team) who presented the philosophy of the project at Barcelona Design Week, it was important to bring back the rural into the city; they call it rurban.
City vegetable gardens bring back the culture of the kitchen garden and its values, getting citizens involved again in the production and consumption pattern of today's economy. Eating locally grown food is not only more environmentally-friendly, but also makes you see where your food comes from, and what it takes to grow it.
Apart from creating houses with a view on gardens, Sociopolis is designed for the new way people get into groups to live together. Standard families (two parents and 1 or 2 kids) are now less than 50% of the Spanish families, and people have other needs. 8% of the population has some kind of disability and the new generations are expected to live much longer, which means that houses need to be made accessible, and livable, for all kinds of people, in order to avoid social exclusion.
The first stage of Sociopolis is currently being build; 2,500 homes on 35 ha on the shore of the river Turia in Valencia. The existing vegetable gardens and fertile lands are being protected, an irrigation system is being constructed and the historic country houses that exist on the land are being restored. Sociopolis aims not only to be a housing project, but wants to bring back the rural to the city, create a new kind of landscape and enhance citizen's well-being through a more social and natural environment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brisbane CityCycle: Strap on Your Helmets

The first stage of the Brisbane CityCycle was launched on October 1st and is aimed at reducing traffic congestion and parking pressures in the inner city by replacing cars with bicycles. Once complete, CityCycle will offer up to 2,000 bikes at 150 stations from Newstead to St Lucia at a cost of $10 million, primarily targeted towards inner city commuters.

From a liveability perspective, the idea behind this scheme ticks all the right boxes. Of the seven elements of liveability described by US-based (and now launching in the Asia-Pacific, with THG as a founding member) Partners for Livable Communities, CityCycle particularly focuses on the categories of health and wellness, environment and quality of life. Ben Wilson of Bicycle Queensland said in a recent Brisbane News article that the scheme will “humanise our inner city streets, making them friendlier,” an outcome which can only result in special places to live, work and play.

However, the introduction of the scheme has not been without issues. The push to ‘Europeanise Brisbane’ doesn’t take into account the current lack of infrastructure available to Brisbane bike riders. Our streets are not as wide, flat and pedestrian friendly as ones in European cities, and the animosity between bike riders and drivers is evident in surveys such as a 2009 RACQ Pet Peeves survey, where 10,000 motorists voted cyclists disobeying the road rules as number 3 in a list of top ten frustrating issues on the road. However, this is a ‘chicken and egg’ question. Do we wait until the infrastructure is in place before we introduce schemes such as these or, do we do as the best innovators do, and take action in the hope of encouraging change?

Read the full THG In The Know story here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sustainability of the Property Industry

THG and Ashe Morgan Winthrop dusted off the crystal ball this morning to discuss the future of the property industry.

According to presenters, Richard Katter and Dan Holden, one of the most significant outcomes from the Global Financial Crisis has been the market’s re-pricing of risk. They identified the means by which property market participants can manage this in regard to changing market demands and finance.

Both Dan and Richard spoke about the importance of doing your homework, particularly on the types of dwellings and price points offered to market.
Sustainability of the Industry. In particular, Richard's analysis of average incomes and the affect this has on purchasing power, compared to the price points of stock in the market shows a large disconnect between the price points in demand and the price points being supplied. This trend applies across Brisbane and the Gold Coast. According to Richard, detailed analysis is vital for the future sustainability of our industry.

Check out the chart which demonstrates this disconnect, particularly in the Brisbane market. The red lines show purchaser distribution (demand) and the blue lines are market distribution (supply)and indicate the over supply at the top end of the market.

If you want to know more about what was discussed, contact Richard at

"Technology's got nothing to do with it...

I found a great quote in the latest edition of Property Australia magazine:

Temple Sagrada Familia, Barcelona: "In terms of the power of the idea, the technology's got nothing to do with it because Gaudi dreamed it up before the technology. But in terms of realising the idea, without today's technology it would have been pretty hard to pull off"*.

One of the Directors at THG put this on my desk based on a discussion about new web technologies, but in retyping it, I think the real meaning is in the fact that Gaudi didn't let a lack of technology stop him from dreaming big. Just because there are nay-sayers out there, doesn't mean we can't imagine - and work out the details later. I was at a conference earlier in the year where a presenter said "design it as though you don't have to build it or pay for it" - a concept which certainly frees the mind to think of concepts that are totally outside the box.

*Mark Burry, a professional research fellow at the Victoria University at Wellington, Innovation Professor of Architecture and director of the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, the Design Research Institute at RMIT in Melbourne and executive architect and researcher at the Temple Sagrada Familia.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Got Green Space?

I just found this little gem on the map magazine blog - a website called 'We Patch'. Essentially, it matches up wannabe gardeners with those who have some garden space to share. According to the website, "is an urban gardening project that brings together people looking for gardening space with those who have space to offer. By facilitating local, small-scale agriculture, we aim to strengthen neighborhood communities, foster healthy lifestyles, and promote environmental stewardship." There are plenty of other garden sharing sites popping up such as Yardish, Hyperlocavore, BK Farmyards, Urban Garden Share, Growfriend, and Landshare just to name a few.
This ties strongly back into the concept of liveability. According to the US based Partners for Livable Communities (of which THG is a foundation member of the Australian chapter), liveability is the result of seven categories, of which health and wellness, environment and quality of life feature heavily (alongside equity, economy, education and leadership). This scheme demonstrates a way to build communities, as well as making the best possible use of our space. It turns private space into public space, one of the basic principles of good urban design. According to Good magazine, the aim of these spaces is to "connect the estimated 40 percent of people in the United States without yard space with the 21 million acres of idle, underused space that’s currently being occupied by lawns."
What do you think? Would you get involved in a scheme like this? Would it work in Australia?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Three D's of Customer Experience

Did you know that while 80% of companies believe they deliver an exceptional customer experience, only 8% of customers agree with them? I found this fascinating statistic in this article, Three D's of Customer Experience. Apparently, the thing that sets the 8% apart is that:

"They design the right offers and experiences for the right customers.
They deliver these propositions by focusing the entire company on them with an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration.
They develop their capabilities to please customers again and again—by such means as revamping the planning process, training people in how to create new customer propositions, and establishing direct accountability for the customer experience."

For me, the most interesting of the 3 D's is that the entire company has to focus on customer experience through cross-functional collaboration. It's important for companies to realise that customer service is not just the role of the receptionist!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Train Station Architecture From Around the World

If you were to describe Brisbane's train stations to someone, would words like 'beautiful', 'attractive', 'picturesque', 'breathtaking' or 'exquisite' come to mind? Probably not.

Train stations need not be boring or dreary! On the contrary, many operators of metros, subways or railways want to attract passengers with good station design. This often means a little extra effort and cost for the metro operators, but it seems to pay off when a metro is more than just a means of transport but something the residents can be proud of.

Works of art or sophisticated architecture can be delightful, inspiring and thought-provoking for daily commuters as well as an attraction for visitors. Distinctive colour schemes and works of art help passengers for orientation, especially in countries with a high level of illiteracy. Furthermore, there is evidence that vandalism diminishes in appealing stations because works of art and good designs are widely respected.

Below are some examples of amazing station design:

New York