Making our cities better by design
Former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has long been a champion of better architecture and planning. Most recently, he caused a stir by describing our national capital as “a great mistake”.
Keating also lamented the bulldozing of much of Melbourne’s heritage in the 1970s, but even had a shot at some of the Victorian buildings that remained.
“I used to call it Whorehouse Rococo and Bordello Baroque”, he said. And he teased Australia’s “heritage mafia” for making a crust out of pretending that old buildings are of significance.
“Things that were never good in the first place, by sheer dint of age, become important,” he said.
A few years back, Keating gave a speech to a city development conference in Sydney.
There he took aim at “modernism”, and described ‘McMansions’ as “an eczema on the Australian landscape”.
But behind the colourful barbs, Keating talked thoughtfully about the importance of good design.
“Design does nourish the soul,’’ he said.
“Our brains are built to comprehend shape and form and are pleased by harmony.
“The eye sees everything. When we walk into a room, we know instantly whether we are pleased by the ambience, even though we cannot instantly articulate why this is the case. ”Similarly, in the built environment, especially in the urban landscape, we know in a heartbeat whether a new construction is a net addition or subtraction from our own interpretive world.
”The old cityscapes have mostly felt good for us because of their human scale, their material use, their architectural exclamation marks and their places for people.
“We regard them as soul-ful, not soul-less, ….”
In my own State, planning and design have long occupied a place of importance.
Surveyor Colonel William Light’s 1830s plan for Adelaide has stood the test of time.
The design of central Adelaide and its parklands, an enduring ‘City in a Park’, is not only revered at home, but admired abroad.
Planning and architecture students around the world are taught about the design principles of 19th Century Adelaide.
But neither Light, nor our State’s pioneers who began arriving in 1836, could have envisioned 21st Century Adelaide and a 20th Century invention - the motor car.
That’s why I will soon release a 30-Year Plan for Greater Adelaide.
This is a blueprint that will shape our metropolitan area and its future.
It will enhance its vibrancy, preserve its liveability, and enshrine its sustainability.
The Plan, which follows a huge consultation effort, will emphasise the value we place on Adelaide’s heritage and unique character, and help underpin the highest quality in urban planning and design.
Sometimes, people criticise plans as an excuse for inaction.
That doesn’t wash now.
There’s plenty happening in Adelaide, either under construction or about to be.
It’s our big build, worth billions.
A desalination plant being built to secure water for our city.
A redeveloped tram network.
A modernised, state-of-the-art electrified and extended suburban train system.
A world class hospital and medical research centre.
The biggest road building roll-out in our history.
A high-tech defence precinct at suburban Osborne, where Air Warfare Destroyers will be built.
And an upgraded Adelaide Oval, for footy as well as cricket.
Our city is experiencing a massive, unprecedented investment in infrastructure.
But both the planning, and the biggest infrastructure build ever means we must also embrace world’s best practice in architecture and urban design.
I’m not just talking about the better design of buildings, but also the spaces between them.
It’s about a greener, more vibrant city, for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as cars.
It’s about a commitment to quality streetscapes, as well as better roads and public transport.
It’s about a city that people want to come to, rather than leave.
For years, we have looked at planning issues or areas within our CBD, in isolation.
It is the same in cities around Australia.
A patchwork quilt that is patched, not interwoven.
Too often, it’s been a slanging match.
Heritage versus development, but never about building future heritage.
I want South Australia to be as celebrated for excellence in design as we are for our wines, our festivals, our leadership in renewable energy.
But it’s got to be integrated design.
The recent work and recommendations of our Canadian Thinker in Residence, Architecture Professor Laura Lee, have challenged us to do better.
Her work was a collaboration with local architects, local planners, local business, local and State Government.
The South Australian Government has listened and, in an Australian first, we will establish an Integrated Design Commission to better co-ordinate and add value to the changing face of our city.
This is critically important as we face the challenges of population growth and climate change, the need to be smarter with our water and energy use, a growing economy, and our greater embrace of public transport.
We are not creating another level of bureaucracy.
The Integrated Design Commission will have an enabling and co-ordinating role, and will advise us on how we can better improve the quality of life of our cities and communities around the State through better design, and by fostering innovation.
It will ensure that our future development and infrastructure investment is better co-ordinated and of the highest quality, not something we, or our children, will regret later.
The South Australian Government will seek to attract a Commissioner with international leadership credentials, supported by an advisory board of leaders from the building industry, from architecture, planning and design backgrounds.
Like other States, a Government Architect will be appointed as part of this team to make sure we’re as proud of the new heritage we build, as we are of the old heritage we seek to preserve.
Through COAG, the Prime Minister has challenged the Premiers to do better with urban design, given that the Commonwealth is now partnering with us in infrastructure.
Through this initiative, I am determined South Australia will not only meet his challenge, but lead Australia in doing so.
- Follow Mike on Twitter at @premiermikerann
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