Tag Archives: urban design

Detroit: Hantz Meanz Farmz


Once a city of innovation, by all accounts, Detroit is today a city in ruin: the Pompeii of our times.  The statistics are frightening: unemployment amongst the highest in the nation, population decreases surpassing even east-Berlin after the wall came down; and not a single supermarket within city limits.

Hantz Farm in inner-Detroit is set to change this.  John Hantz and Matt Allen have created this innovative approach to save the local community.  They realise that much of Detroit is simply “too broken to fix”, so aim to reinvigorate it by creating 100 acres of urban farms – former residential or commercial plots of land which they will clear and transform into a thriving agricultural area, for a relatively low cost. They cannot reinvigorate the fledgling car industry which has devastated the local – and national – economy, but they can create jobs, stimulate the local economy, and give residents a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

It’s an inspiring idea that will create jobs, increase the health of its denizens, aid in smart energy use, lower crime rates and free up emergency services to look after the inhabited areas of the city.

Natty little logo, too.



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Posted by on August 1, 2009 in building, urban design


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Louisiana, Denmark: Green Architecture for the Future


You’ve heard of Paris, Texas.  But Louisiana, Denmark?

This sleepy satellite suburb on the outskirts of Copenhagen is home to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, a stunning seaside building established in 1958 as a showcase for many of the world’s finest contemporary artworks and sculptures.

The museum is currently exhibiting Green Architecture for the Future, a multidisciplinary exhibition examining the pending, fundamental changes to three areas of design: The City, Climate & Comfort, and Metabolism.

The City examines the global population drift towards urban living, and various responses to this, both current and future.  It includes an ambitious Foster + Partners design for Masdar City – a purpose-built, sustainable city in the United Arab Emirates – as well as a Sarcozy-sponsored redesign for Paris by MVRDV, and the tree-like Tower of Tomorrow by William McDonough & Partners.

Climate & Comfort and Metabolism explore themes of renewal, rebirth and reappropriation, such as a building made from empty water bottles (now there’s an intelligent solution, Mr Rees).

Via Arcspace.

Masdar City




Tower of Tomorrow



United Bottle




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Traffic! by Benny Chan


Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a small obsession with traffic, maps and urban design, so it’s no surprise that I love Los Angeles: the ultimate car city.

I just spent half an hour reading a brilliant, if somewhat old, post on urbanist blog cityofsound discussing a recent (and, it must be said, outrageous) article in The Economist about how electric cars should simulate the noise of a conventional fuel combustion engine for safety and aesthetic reasons.  The article really makes you wonder what a world without cars might be like.  To emphasise his point about how preposterous personal transportation has really become, he links to some amazing photos by photographer Benny Chan.  GOOD has a picture show with more, but I’ve posted some of my faves here, depicting rivers of concrete snaking through the LA suburbs.








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Urban Design Hall of Shame


So I’m in a bitchin kinda mood. And nothing makes me bitch more than lost opportunities and badly designed public spaces.  So I was pleased to come across the Project for Public Spaces, an international consortium dedicated to improving people’s lives through good urban design.

My favourite section of their website is the Hall of Shame, where PPS nominates the world’s most poorly designed spaces.  Some are obvious (Hong Kong Cultural Centre, NYC’s Astor Place – shown above – and Boeddeker Park in San Fran).  Others are controversial (Guggenheim Bilbao as an example of poor design, anyone?).

It doesn’t seem that PPS have visited Australia, save for some consulting work they are currently doing in Melbourne and Perth.  So here are my 10 most loathed public spaces in Sydney:

1. Circular Quay – for obvious reasons. A thundering expressway and railway line covering up one of Sydney’s most spectacular views.  Also for its excess of seagulls and faux-Aboriginal buskers.

2. Darling Harbour – a vast, kitsch wasteland, especially towards the southern end around the Entertainment Centre.  Isolated at night, and all those bricks are stiflingly hot during the day, even in the middle of winter.

3. Centennial Plaza – Sydney’s worst example of 80s office design – and there are a few contenders, believe me. A salmon-coloured, windswept monument to mediocrity that could have been so much more.

4. Railway Square – a glass-and-concrete island surrounded by a sea of bitumen and belching buses.  Especially fun in the rain, when the architecturally-designed shelters reveal how incredibly useless they really are.

5. Victoria Cross, North Sydney – so many cars, so few people, which probably has something to do with North Sydney’s obsession of burying buildings, including the Greenwood Plaza shopping centre.  Sydney has the best climate in the world, so why office workers would want to spend their lunchtimes in an underground food court is baffling.

6. Woolloomooloo Wharf – a temple to conspicuous consumption with overpriced restaurants frequented by over-botoxed and over-tanned patrons – sooo 2008;

7. Springfield Mall, Kings Cross – a needlessly blank space with a very dicey feel. And no, those neon pinwheels you erected a few years ago do not make me feel more safe.

8. Bondi Junction Mall – just dull. Really, really dull.  Suffocatingly dull.

9. Taylor Square, Darlinghurst – pissy fountains and – you’ve got it – more traffic. Especially vile on a Saturday and Sunday morning where locals congregate to ‘recover’;

10. Town Hall – One of Sydney’s finest buildings has been surrounded by the most frightful building material known to man – pebblecrete.


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Posted by on June 9, 2009 in building, urban design


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High Line: diller scofidio + renfro

b+w high line

Everyone in New York is talking about the High Line.  And for once they’re not referring to that chopped-up white powder on the bedside table.  Thanks to the great work of grassroots organisation Friends of the High Line, the first stage of this exciting project is due to open in just a few weeks.

Designed by diller scofidio + renfro (who have the best website ever), this  massive project sees the restoration of a historical 1.5 mile railway line snaking its way through New York’s Meatpacking district.  Hotel god Andre Balazs has opened a branch of The Standard above the tracks (below)

Never mind that the French did it over 10 years ago – this is a real asset in a space-starved city.

the standard exterior

under standard

original high line


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Paddington Reservoir

Paddington Reservoir

I love living in Sydney, but the city is not well known for its fine urban design.  We have a spectacular setting with stunning natural features, but sadly this usually translates into design complacency rather than creativity.

The newly reopened Paddington Reservoir is the most exciting thing to happen to Sydney’s urban fabric in years.  Originally built as a reservoir in 1866, before being converted to a service station in 1914, it features a sunken garden, a reflective pond, and the subterranean East Chamber which will house live music, markets and cinematic events.

Hopefully the gardens will bring life to what was until recently one of Sydney’s premier shopping strip, before Lowy moved in up the road.

Paddington Reservoir

Paddington Reservoir

Petrol Bowsers woz 'ere '34

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Posted by on April 15, 2009 in building, urban design


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Thinking: Activists are Annoying

I Am An Activist

Activists are annoying. No matter how strongly you agree with their principles, their persistence and one-eyedness gets on the nerves. And besides, activism is like so 1960s, with bra-burning feminists, free love devotees and . The naughties are all about consumption and complacency.

I find it incomprehensible to be so passionate about something that you are willing to give up your weekend, let alone your life. Sure, I’m all for the rights of gays, women and animals, and I realy admire the fantastic work done by groups such as GetUp!, and Amnesty. But activism is just not in me, which is why I find activists annoying.

Every day I walk past a hand-written sign that says “We want our public streets back, Clover”, a feeble protest to Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore regarding street closures implemented in 2005 that funnel people into the tolled Cross City Tunnel. The sign clearly hasn’t worked, as the streets are still closed, yet four years later the sign is still there, on yellowing paper, becoming more pathetic as each day passes.

I do however admire the philosophy of UK activist group Common Ground, whose sole aim is to promote a sense of place in cities, towns and hamlets. Their Rules for Local Distinctiveness outline 26 (or so) rules that local governments, councils and indeed citizens should adopt lest their place of residence becomes a generic, internationalised version of its former self.

The group advocates authenticity and genuineness, two things that are lacking in many cities today. And while they may be annoying activists, perhaps this is just what our town planners and governments need.

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Posted by on March 11, 2009 in designing, urban design


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