Menu lock


Sep 17, 2017



Little Bourke Street – time to give pedestrians priority (source: Victoria Walks)

In this week’s Tw3, The Urbanist comments on:

  • Make Little Bourke Street shared or car-free
  • Shortlist revealed: 2017 National Architecture Awards
  • Sydney’s Cloud Arch critics and our mean-spirited approach to public art
  • Should bike helmets be mandatory? Bicycle Network reviews its support of Australian law
  • Parliament house fence: a plague on both our houses
  • Reason Sydney outside top 10 cities in global liveability index is not terrorism
  • Sorry Melbourne, but you’re no Sydney, so stop trying so damn hard

Make Little Bourke Street shared or car-free

Lots of walkers & occasional car on Lt Bourke show wrong priorities of allocating road space. Make shared or car free!

An eminently sensible proposal from Victoria Walks. For the umpteenth time, here are the key reasons why use of cars should be drastically reduced in the city centre:

  • The high value of activities and high pedestrian densities place a big premium on amenity in the city centre, yet cars damage its agreeableness through noise, pollution, danger, delay and reducing the scope for other options such as outdoor recreation and dining
  • Cars are at their least useful in the centre of the metropolitan area where there’s limited road space, a huge concentration of activities, excellent local transport options, and outstanding accessibility by public transport to and from the rest of the metropolitan area.

Walking must be the priority mode in a dense place like the CBD; there are plenty of precedents for dramatically reducing car use in small areas. In most cases shared road space is the most plausible option, given the need to provide space for buses, trams, and service vehicles. How to deal with legacy parking stations is a key issue; owners will need incentives to provide new uses for them.

Shortlist revealed: 2017 National Architecture Awards

The Australian Institute of Architects has announced the shortlist for the 2017 National Architecture Awards. From a record 983 entries across state and territory chapter awards programs, 205 were eligible for judging by the national jury, which has shortlisted 72 projects, which will vie for the prestigious awards.

What is it about the design of this competition that resulted in 79% of entries being ruled ineligible (or is it something about architects themselves)?

More worrying for the rest of us is it’s 2017 and yet the Awards still have a category, Sustainable Architecture, as if sustainability is a quality that only some buildings should exhibit. Why isn’t there a category for Rainproof Architecture or Won’t Fall Down architecture? Exemplary sustainability should be a given, like structural integrity, fire safety and old-fashioned functionality.

There are two categories for detached houses with 15 shortlisted entries in total, compared to one category for higher density housing, with 7 nominations. Hardly reflective of the huge shift to town houses and apartments in Australian cities, but reflects where many architects earn their living.

Sydney’s Cloud Arch critics and our mean-spirited approach to public art

The final design traces a wispy, ethereal line that reaches up to lasoo and frame the sky above, offering a variety of views from different perspectives.

That might’ve been a fair description of the original idea – which was markedly more ribbon-like and sensuous – but the version that’s buildable has lost height, added weight, bulked-out the curves and, of course, tripled in cost. The Sydney Morning Herald published a telling side-by-side graphic comparison of the two versions; they’re different creatures.

The writer is Felicity Fenner, Director of UNSW Galleries. She dismisses critics as “mean-spirited” and says Australians have a “miserly approach to public art”. Elizabeth Farrelly, who reckons the new version “will excite Sydney”, insists the criticism is “dreary utilitarianism”, most of it from conservatives and shock-jocks.

I think they’ve missed the mark. My social media feeds reveal plenty of sophisticated Sydneysiders who supported the original version but think the latest one isn’t worth bothering with; it simply doesn’t have the magic. It’s not about the cost; it’s the quality of the art. This version doesn’t “materialise air”.

Should bike helmets be mandatory? Bicycle Network reviews its support of Australian law

Bicycle Network, which boasts a 50,000-strong membership, has supported mandatory helmet wearing for people who ride bikes since Australia introduced them in the early 1990s. It is now undertaking a policy review to assess its long-standing position on the issue — which could lead to a change.

This is big news. Bicycle Network is doubtless responding to criticism from members who oppose the law. The CEO, Craig Richards, emphasises though that the review does not pre-empt the outcome:

We may conclude our current position is the best one. Or we may conclude it’s not. We understand reviewing mandatory helmets will get messy. We understand the risks and that we can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Bicycle Network is running an on-line survey on the helmet law until 22 September and is aiming to complete the review by April 2018.

Australia is of course unique in that the helmet law’s been in place for 27 years, spanning two generations. That will make reform difficult. The key thing in my view is to ensure the debate doesn’t distract attention from the far more important objective of improving cycling infrastructure.

Parliament house fence: a plague on both our houses

Since Parliament House was opened by the Queen in 1988, there have been a number of changes to the precinct in the name of improved security. People haven’t been able to walk over the top of it since 2005, various bollards have been added, access to the ministerial wing has been restricted and police now guard the area with serious-looking guns.

But while these changes are significant, they have nothing on the 2.6metre-high steel fence that is under construction around the building.

Improvements in security at Parliament House are an inevitable adaptation to a growing threat. It’s a key target (just ask Guy Fawkes!) and, with a million visitors a year, there’s enormous potential for injury. But is that fence really the optimal solution for a place of such immense national significance? It’s not about the architecture; this is an interesting and worthy design but it’s not great. The issue is that the nation’s key institution deserves and justifies being treated with more dignity. There’s Italian green Cipollino marble and creamy pink Portugese Atlantide Rosa marble in the foyer and yet there’s a prison-grade variation on a galvabond fence on the outside?

Terrorism is not the reason Sydney is outside top 10 cities in global liveability index

Terrorism isn’t the reason that Sydney sucks more than it used to…(it’s) traffic congestion, profiteering toll roads and non-existent public transport links…(it’s) the war on Sydney’s culture…(it’s) the refusal to address the city’s housing crisis…(it’s) the way that all the things that make this such a wonderful place to be – the beaches, the mountains, the harbour, the city itself – are increasingly the exclusive preserve of the wealthy. 

Most of these issues are true of other large global cities like London, New York, Paris, San Francisco. Sydney isn’t the place it was even as recently as the 1990s; it’s now an international city. Many of the things that once made it “such a wonderful place to be” for those on average incomes – essentially the inner city as harbour living went aeons ago – are gone forever, or at least this side of the revolution.

More infrastructure, more housing supply and major reforms of the way housing is taxed will all help, but they won’t bring the old Sydney back for new generations. It’s time to proactively create new “wonderful things” in other parts of Sydney, especially along the rail lines. For many members of iGen, the other option is to realise there’s a whole world of other places they can live.

Sorry Melbourne, but you’re no Sydney, so stop trying so damn hard

Yes, houses might be a tad more expensive in our nation’s first state. But Prada is also more expensive than Target. Make of that what you will. The point is this: stop trying to make a Melbourne-Sydney feud happen. Because when it does, we will knock you out of the park – which, by the way, is a thing some cities have in their CBDs. Give it a try some time.

You can’t stop Sydney-Melbourne competition because it’s been going on since the nineteenth century. Allen and Unwin even published a book on the rivalry in 1985, The Sydney-Melbourne Book, edited by Jim Davidson. Judging by the 247 comments on this story, there’s still plenty of fire in the topic, propelled no doubt by Sydney’s high cost and Melbourne’s recent economic strength (see Is Melbourne better than Sydney?);

Here’s an interesting question: is the strong stand the Melbourne-headquartered AFL has taken on inclusiveness compared to the Sydney-headquartered NRL due in some part to cultural differences between Sydney and Melbourne?


Jun 23, 2017



Dec 16, 2015


North Fitzroy Star
Interior of existing North Fitzroy Star, from front page of hotel web site. Doubt it looked much like this 50 years ago, let alone 137 years ago

The Age reported on Saturday that residents of North Fitzroy are “in a lather” about plans to redevelop the North Fitzroy Star hotel.

Residents are rallying to protect the 137-year-old North Fitzroy Star hotel, the latest in a string of inner-city 19th century pubs slated for housing development. A group called Save the North Fitzroy Star fears the obliteration of a “unique and beautiful place” they say is a family-friendly community hub.

The implication is an historic building’s about to be razed, the neighbourhood will be deprived of a local, and a valuable “community hub” will be lost forever. Is that what’s really happening here?

The North Fitzroy Star might have a pub licence and it might be in an old pub building, but for all practical purposes it’s an up-market restaurant and bar (see first exhibit). It was a restaurant and bar when I lived in the neighbourhood in 2000 and for all practical purposes it still is, although it’s branched out into receptions and functions – have a look at how the Star sees itself on its web site.

The building isn’t going to be “obliterated” (here’s what it looks like now). The 137 year old exterior won’t be altered and the streetscape form won’t change significantly (see second exhibit). Here’s what the applicant’s heritage architect says:

In summary, the partial demolition of the hotel at 32 St Georges Road and the proposed new two-storey additions are acceptable in terms of their impact on the `individually significant’ building on the subject site and the broader heritage area. The additions respond sensitively to their heritage context through their location, scale, gabled form and external treatment. While the works will clearly result in a degree of change, this change will not adversely affect the significance of the heritage place. The scheme has been designed with appropriate regard for relevant Council policy and heritage considerations more generally.

The major changes will be to the interior of the site which the owner says was “gutted” in the 1990s. There’ll be five two-storey townhouses (3 x 3 bedroom, 2 x 2 bedroom) and a wine bar with capacity for 80 patrons.

The residents say they don’t want to lose a local pub. But this is North Fitzroy; residents have a huge range of pubs, restaurants and bars nearby in Brunswick St and Nicholson St. The Lord Newry is in the same street, 200 metres away. The Tramway Hotel is in the same street 250 metres away.

The nub of residents concerns’ seems to be that the Star is special; it’s a “family-friendly community hub”. But there’s no guarantee or even liklihood these qualities would be maintained even if it remained a pub. According to The Age’s report, it’s not commercially viable in its current form; the owner and operator aren’t prepared to subsidise the locals and the latter aren’t prepared to pay what it would take to keep it going.(1)

The building’s been a hotel for 137 years but it’s current sophisticated incarnation is relatively recent. For most of that time it was the Morning Star Hotel, then the Star Hotel, Lord Jim’s, and from 1999 the North Fitzroy Star.

I expect the locals might doubt the value of keeping it as a pub were some new publican to bring in poker machines and a betting agency. Or if it reverted to being the sort of swill & blood house that’s almost certainly more representative of the major part of its history than the present operation.

This is one of those cases (like here and here) where the real issue isn’t the change in use or protection of an important building. Rather, it’s about residents expecting government to intervene to protect an ambience or a special quality that’s largely come about serendipitously rather than by design.

The fact that it’s impossible to codify this elusive quality; that it’s inherently unstable; that it doesn’t work commercially for the operator; and that the locals aren’t prepared to pay the real cost of such an amenity, seems to be of no concern to them. It’s a bit like forcibly preventing the life of the party from leaving for fear it’ll diminish everyone else’s fun.

The proposal might give rise to other more conventional concerns (parking for wine bar patrons?) but the issues raised by residents are irrelevant. The proposed redevelopment will expand housing supply in a neighbourhood with good access to public transport and where the scope for new housing is severely limited.

It’ll do it without detriment to the streetscape and it’ll even provide a wine bar; perhaps the locals can make the effort to create a similar sense of a community hub in the new establishment? (1)

I really have to wonder why The Age even reported this story. The fact that enough agitated people can be gotten together for a photo op seems to be the guiding principle, not whether there’s an important issue or principle at stake.


  1. Council is building a grand community hub in St Geroges Rd, North Fitzroy.
Street view of proposed redevelopment, St Georges Rd
Street view of proposed redevelopment, St Georges Rd


Sep 24, 2015



Couldn't resist snapping this little cutie in Fairfield, Melbourne, the other day; looked like she was saddled up for Tekelrennen 2015, aka the Running of the Wieners

Does ‘peak car’ mean traffic congestion is going away?

There’s a misconception that the passing of ‘peak car’ also means the passing of ‘peak traffic congestion’. That’s not true and hence demands for more motorways to combat congestion will persist

Will Infrastructure Victoria improve the standard of political promises?

Victoria’s Opposition reckons the lack of a rail line to Melbourne Airport is a major and pressing problem for the city. Evaluating claims like this must be a key role of Infrastructure Victoria

**Quick, closes midnight tonight! Follow this link to be in the running to win one of two copies of Creating Cities by Marcus Westbury**

Apartment standards: is policy being made in a vacuum?

It looks like Victoria’s Planning Minister has gone too far on minimum apartment standards to back off now. It’s up to the Premier to make sure the proper analysis is done first

Why is the number of cycling fatalities falling?

Cycling is riskier than driving but contrary to popular wisdom the long term trend in the number of riders killed on Australian roads is downward (but not such good news for MAMILs)

Do architects go crazy when they design their own houses?

The stereotype is architects go into “batshit crazy” mode when they’ve got the freedom to design their own house. A new book suggests that’s out of date; these architects focus on good design

How popular were trains, trams and cycling in 1951?

Back in 1951, public transport still dominated the journey to work in Australian cities. For example, it accounted for more than half of work trips in Melbourne; only 20% of workers commuted by car

Is being “the world’s most liveable city” such a big deal?

Yet again The Economist’s Global Liveability Index is dominated by Australasian and Canadian cities, but it says little about their differences or what they’re like to live in permanently

Has an acceptable case been made for this (road) project?

Victoria’s Auditor-General reckons the Government hasn’t properly assessed the unsolicited proposal from toll operator Transurban for the widening of CityLink and Tullamarine freeways

Does anyone care about getting the numbers right on infrastructure?

The standard of public debate around infrastructure projects seems to be constantly beset by misinformation around costs and revenues; there’s little to suggest it’s going to get better

How is it cars had taken over the streets by 1976?

Car use grew rapidly in Australia in the immediate post-war era. By 1976 cars accounted for 70% of all commutes across the nation’s capital cities. It had all the hallmarks of an irresistible force

Does using public transport make the community healthier?

A new US study finds that mode share and accessibility by public transport aren’t correlated significantly with health outcomes. If the study’s right, how could that be?

Is the planning of new fringe suburbs getting better?

A press report about a new urban fringe suburb plays to the stereotypes of sprawl but the critics seem to have little idea about what’s really happening with new outer suburban developments


Apr 10, 2015



Source: The New Yorker

What to do about cyclists getting doored?

The tragic death last week of a cyclist on Melbourne’s Sydney Rd highlights the need to make cycling on streets safer. One possible action is to give cyclists greater rights on some roads

Is lack of investment in trains why the inner city is so expensive?

Property prices have risen much faster in the inner city than the outer suburbs over the last 30 years. One theory is that under-investment in rail connecting the suburbs to the CBD is the culprit

Portrait building: Is the new face of Melbourne too shy?

Melbourne’s new William Barak Portrait building will be officially opened tomorrow. It’s an exciting project but a lot more could’ve been done in this premier location

Favourite city in the world

The comp for City Limits isn’t over until Thursday but such is reader Michael R James enthusiasm he couldn’t hold back; he boldly offered his views on the various cities nominated by readers as their “favourite”

Will this be the end of all those CBD “scaryscrapers”?

Victoria’s new Planning Minister is happy to talk down city centre skyscrapers but he should appreciate the impact on metropolitan housing affordability of any action he takes to limit supply

Who cares if Dallas Brooks Hall gets demolished?

There was nary a whisper of protest from any quarter last week when the Andrews government approved demolition of Victoria’s 1960s Dallas Brooks Hall. Does anyone care?

F1 Grand Prix: what do you get for $60-$70 million?

This Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park is likely to cost taxpayers close to $70 million. But the benefits don’t come within cooee of that outlay; there are much better uses for the money

How big was cycling in Australia in the past?

Cycling in Australia was much bigger historically – 10% mode share during WW2 – than it is now, but it’s never come anywhere near the past and present popularity of cycling in the Netherlands

Building an education revolution: 600 schools in five years!

Nick Bastow’s great great grandfather was one of Australia’s most influential architects. In the 1870s he built what today would be an average of five schools in every Melbourne suburb

Are walking and cycling as green as we imagine?

Recent research concludes carbon emissions from walking are very large – around the same as taking the bus – and it’s mainly down to what we eat. As usual, it’s not that simple

Is building new lines the key measure of progress with rail?

The measure of how well cities do in improving public transport isn’t just extra kilometres of track; it’s also how much extra capacity is provided in the public transport system as a whole

Architecture & buildings

Nov 19, 2013


Social housing at 2 McIntyre Drive Altona - winner of the Frederick Romberg Award for Multiple Housing in the 2013 National Architecture Awards

Back in June I argued there’s been a history of architects “innovating” with the aesthetics of social housing in ways they can’t easily do with private housing.

I was prompted by a new social housing complex for older disabled residents at 2 McIntyre Drive in the Melbourne residential and industrial suburb of Altona (see exhibit). At the time it had just won the Residential Architecture (Multiple Housing) category in this year’s Victorian Architecture Awards.

I’m revisiting the topic because two weeks ago the building was a winner at the Australian Institute of Architects 2013 National Architecture Awards. It won Australia’s highest architectural accolade in its class, the Frederick Romberg Award for Multiple Housing.

In my previous article (Do social housing tenants get the housing they’d choose?), I contended that 2 McIntyre Drive has a distinctive and particular industrial/warehouse “look”.

The design by MGS Architects might capture the character of a suburb that’s home to Toyota’s car manufacturing plant, but it’s a highly specific form that a private developer in my view would be unlikely to risk in the marketplace.

Private buyers can go elsewhere if they’re unhappy with the appearance of a building, so builders whose customers have a choice strive to understand what their buyers prefer.

Developers selling to sophisticated professionals in the inner city will sometimes take an aesthetic risk in an effort to differentiate their product, but they’re dealing with a very different market. I think they’d be much less likely to do that with dwellings aimed at the bottom end of the market or in suburban Altona.

There’s a long history of architects experimenting aesthetically with social housing. They’re aided by housing authorities, who usually employ architecturally trained personnel to prepare briefs and manage consulting architects.

They’ve been able to do it because the residents of social housing don’t usually get a say in the “look” of their buildings. Residents are often at a considerable remove from aesthetic decisions and in any event lack the power to go elsewhere that a private buyer has.

The obvious downside is residents mightn’t like the appearance of the buildings they’re assigned to. Some might argue that aesthetics is a trivial concern, but it’s an important consideration for private buyers and seemingly of immense importance to architects.

Another concern is that housing which has a highly distinctive but “market unfriendly” aesthetic might identify the residents as welfare recipients. This could lead to a loss of dignity for some residents and exacerbate problems with integration with the neighbourhood.

I’m not in any way criticising the functional efficiency or cost-effectiveness of 2 McIntyre Drive; I can’t possibly know how it stacks up in that regard. The issue I’m raising is about the appropriateness of elites imposing their aesthetic values on those with limited power.

Not unexpectedly, some architects (but not all) disagreed with my original article. My argument was variously described on Twitter as “nonsense”, “lacking rigour” and “tired”.

The most revealing though came from an evidently exasperated @taniadavidge, who said “It just makes me tired. Why bother trying to give people a better outcome aesthetically and spatially?”

And another from an apparently amazed @michael_zanardo who asked: “So the question is now whether the ‘look’ of the housing is ‘appropriate’ for its occupants?”

Two of the architects involved in designing 2 McIntyre Drive, Rob McGauran and Eli Gianinni, weighed in to the debate in comments on the original article. But they avoided the issue and offered red herrings instead, arguing that residents are satisfied with their accommodation.

Of course they are, but it has nothing to do with the appearance of the building!

As I noted previously, residents now have accommodation that’s purpose-designed for disabled residents; they have a brand new unit with mod cons; they get to live with others whose life situation is similar in important respects; they might finally have reasonable certainty of tenure; and for some it might be their first entry into subsidised social housing.

They get to live in a complex the architect’s say has been designed to function well in terms of over-looking, privacy, and access to open space. It’s also a quiet location, albeit a long way from services.

But those arguments are irrelevant to the issue I’m raising i.e. that the appearance of the building has little to do with the tastes of the residents and everything to do with the taste of artistic elites.

Contemporary social housing is a vast improvement on the “towers in the park” of the past. Back then architects and social reformers too often imposed their own ideas on residents who lacked the opportunity and resources to deal with them on fair terms.

Social housing authorities need to be conscious who they’re providing housing for; they need to put residents front and centre. They should work hard to avoid the paternalism of the past in all aspects of their operations.