We do this well when it comes to iconic structures – museums, stadiums, towers and galleries – although usually after they are built, not before. However, it is often small scale interventions – the design of new housing, doctor’s surgeries, cafes and schools – that can have the most significant impact on people’s daily lives, and is the sort of architecture we should be championing.
Since arriving in Melbourne after living abroad for nine years, it has struck me that the city (and the State of Victoria) lacks confidence in campaigning for new and better urban design solutions. In the fields of architecture, planning and urban design ‘campaigning’ seems to arouse negative connotations, often associated with preventing development rather than embracing it.
While working in London at CABE (The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment), we ran many campaigns that championed new architecture and design. CABE’s ‘Wasted Space” campaign highlighted the fact that there are 70,000 hectares of derelict land across England. Working with the BBC as a media partner, the campaign called on local people to nominate a wasted space in their area and to come up with ideas to help regenerate them. We received thousands of nominations and some inspired ideas for transforming derelict land.
CABE highlighted a range of sites, from the very large to the small, including a barren area of derelict open space in Ancoats, Manchester; an abandoned block of land in Stockton-on-Tees; the transformation of a 19 acre riverside site in Newark-on-Trent into a mixed use development of private homes, offices, a marina and a new riverside park; and the creation of a new skateboard and BMX park in the village of Denby, Derbyshire. Melbourne is not Denby or Ancoats, but it would still benefit from the same kind of campaign – great ideas generated by enthusiastic local residents who want to see positive, creative additions to run down or stagnant areas.
In order to stimulate new and better design in our city and suburbs, we should be raising public aspirations, encouraging new ideas and risk taking. If time and money is spent only on condemning bad development then we create a climate that engenders mediocrity and perpetuates the status quo. At Message Consultants we would love to hear your ideas for how Melbourne can distinguish itself – whether it be through a building, a public space, a new suburb, a concept for travelling through the city, seeing art, or just challenging the rules and regulations of the place.