The Office of Victorian Government (OVGA) provides strategic advice to government about architecture and urban design and promotes awareness about how good design can make great urban environments. As a client adviser we advocate the importance of urban design thinking in all government projects. Within the OVGA there are a suite of tools on offer to support urban design quality including: desktop reviews, design quality teams to monitor the progress of a project, assistance to draft an Expression of Interest (EOI) or project brief and the Victorian Design Review Panel (VDRP), which to date has reviewed over $1 billion of State Government projects, and now includes local government projects. Relating to this education of urban designers workshops, as a client adviser, a few of the key urban design themes that the OVGA experience include:
Understanding urban design adds value
Informed clients see the value in urban design thinking to inform the overall project scope, context and place that expectation in project briefs or EOIs. The key is to involve a person with urban design skills early in the design process to enable a quality outcome. Urban design advice can help bridge the gap between the planning process and architecture to capture greater opportunities. Urban design can also act as the circuit breaker between politics and process. It can offer an impartial perspective, broaden thinking and broker solutions.
Urban design is a multidisciplinary skill
Urban design skills are multidisciplinary and can be found across planning, architecture, landscape and property. Urban design can be informed on a number of levels. The consideration of hydrology, indigenous history and ecology are all as important as delivering an active public realm or a fine grain streetscape. The ability to help a regional community realise and articulate the authenticity of ‘their place’ is far more desirable than trying to replicate latte laneways.
Budgets are key in delivering a legacy
A common issue for any client is that budgets need to allow for a high quality urban realm or they may be compromised during the process. To achieve a quality public realm demands a realistic budget and it is therefore critical that urban designers are skilled to recognise the financial realities of a project and effective procurement methods. For example, a well-designed station equally demands a high quality public realm as rail links to other modes of transport such as bus services or a growing community. The staging of a project also has advantages and disadvantages in either realising the design intent or in diminishing design quality, as other competing interests hold sway.
Urban design informing context
The function and scope of the public realm should be led by urban design thinking and not merely car movements or preferred entry and exit points. Urban design skills that use accepted qualitative and quantitative methodologies to measure people and places can identify the key priorities in designing public space.
Privatisation of the public realm
Graduate urban designers need to be skilled to critically assess and articulate the protection of the public realm. They need skills to discern when privatisation of the public realm is proposed and utilise existing tools and planning mechanisms to avoid such outcomes.
Other key themes include understanding the value of a robust masterplan, designing for whole-of-life, testing structure plans and recognising the importance of the plan, elevation and cross-section in articulating design intent. High quality urban design becomes even more critical as we increase the density of our cities and accommodate a growing and ageing population. Urban design courses must continue to encourage critical thinking, effective graphic and written communication to equip graduates as the future design champions of the public realm.