Australia’s first Urban Design Master’s program is dead. QUT launched Australia’s first Urban Design program in 1987 and due to not exceeding 30 enrolments for this year the program was closed. Lacking a quarter century perspective on how the program has significantly contributed to good public policy, process and place-making, QUT’s ‘bean-counters’ have struck. Let us reflect.
Together with Melbourne and Sydney, Brisbane was a hive of urban design interest and activity from the mid 1980’s. For over twenty seven years QUT urban designers influenced state and local governments, institutions and developers in their understanding about the importance and value of urban design. QUT academics published widely, exhibited projects and hosted several urban design conferences. The highly successful City Image: Putting Urban Design on the Agenda international conference, led by Michael Bryce in 1990, accelerated interest nationwide and set the scene for a succession of conferences in other cities. John Byrne (Adjunct Professor at QUT) led another City Image conference in Brisbane in 1998 and he continued to be energetically engaged in advancing urban design, witnessed by his constant advocacy, his key role in the Kelvin Grove Urban Village (QUT and government partnership), his writing of the Queensland CPTED guidelines and his recent co-editorship of UDF’s Urban Voices book.
QUT urban designers contributed to many landmark advances. Amongst them was Gordon Holden’s co-convenorship of several Brisbane Development Association workshops with State and local governments and cross disciplinary professionals to explore high quality urban solutions for the city. Past QUT urban design and architecture academic, Juris Greste and colleagues incorporated the Queensland Urban Design Alliance (UDAL) in 2002, based on a decade of meetings and workshops, all to advocate with a strong across-professions voice. In 2007 Juris was awarded an AO in recognition of his considerable services to urban design. Catherine Bull led the QUT UD Master’s program for a period, strengthening landscape architecture’s presence. Catherine went on to national urban design prominence through contributions to Prime Minister Paul Keating’s initiative Urban Design in Australia (1994) and advisory roles, including with NCDC. She continues to be an influential force. Gordon Holden was a co-author with the late Jan Martin as lead, of the National Urban Design Education Strategy (1996), a progeny of Urban Design in Australia.
In 1998 Australia’s first Urban Design Educator’s conference was initiated by Danny O’Hare in his role as the then UD Masters leader at QUT. Also in 1998 QUT UD Masters graduate, Tory Jones together with Philip Follent (previously a QUT lecturer) established the Gold Coast Urban Design Awards, as a catalyst to improve the quality of the public realm in that city, Australia’s first to establish urban design awards independent of professional bodies. The awards were tested against Guiding Principles for Urban Design, developed by Philip as Gold Coast City Architect. A decade later as Queensland Government Architect, Philip led the creation of the Charter for Urban Places within the Board for Urban Places, which seemed at the time and until a change of Government in 2012, to be consolidating urban design centrally in government thinking about buildings and city making. Current Qld Government Architect and QUT UD Masters graduate, Malcolm Middleton, is leading it’s reincarnation as the Urban Design and Places Panel. Other highly significant contributions include Peter Richards (QUT Masters graduate and more recently a Professor at QUT) contributed to urban design teaching and conducted many enlightened charrettes and consultancies over the years. Peter’s position at QUT will conclude at the end of 2015, now that the urban design program has been terminated. Other QUT UD Masters graduates who proceeded to distinguished practice including Ross Meakin as University of Queensland’s Site Planner, Caroline Stalker, an Architectus director and Alexandro Cohn a Place Design director. There are many more.
The final UDAL (Qld) gathering for 2015 was hosted at QUT on 19 November, concurrent with an exhibition of undergraduate student urban design projects. The occasion took on the semblance of a wake as several speakers (from the above mentioned people) fondly recalled their QUT urban design experiences and reinforced the critical importance of urban design in creating liveable places and cities. Without exception in different ways they called for urban design education to re-appear in Queensland, recognising, as summed up by Michael Brice AM AE “urban design is still on the threshold as the only serious discipline which is interested in the whole picture of cities… urban design education is essential for this commitment to be fulfilled”.
QUT requires vision and imagination to re-invent urban design educational content and delivery that is relevant and economically viable. Perhaps start by having a re-look at the National Urban Design Strategy!
Gordon Holden Architecture Discipline Head, Griffith University, Queensland