ARCHITECTS, landscape architects and urban designers are utopic and, above all, we want to and believe that what we do makes the world a better place to live.
Yet often times our grand visions and well-intentioned projects are divisive and contribute to a whole range of urbanistic failures. Part of this is the distance we often have from the communities we serve, as well as the how design services are procured in the public realm.
In thinking through what the new Newcastle should or could be, it seems that we must not only interrogate the numerous design proposals that are appearing almost weekly at present, but also the very processes that set the stage for how things are shaped in the first place.
The public is not a cohesive, single-minded entity; it is a diverse, often contradictory body of communities and disparate groups of individuals, so in the provision of public buildings and public space, why do we insist on the similar processes of engagement and procurement regardless of diverse and complex contexts?
Novocastrians are often engaged in all sorts of public reviews of master plans and place-making but the outcome is often what was pre-determined by so-called market forces in the first place.
Disillusionment, marginalisation and a general lack of trust then set up the next projects for hurdles even before they begin.
We need inventive strategies for procuring innovation in the built environment.
Recent attempts at ‘‘place-making’’ and capturing identity tend to ameliorate conflict and try and make all sorts of conflicting viewpoints into a rather bland set of principles, devoid of any real connection to specificity.
Difference and contestation is key to the public realm yet we respond by providing generic parks, streets, and masterplans rather than embracing the productive friction that is urban life.
Place is constantly emerging, evolving and shifting, it does not stand still, so why are our attempts at ‘‘place-making’’ attempting to freeze these moments in time?
I am a newcomer and what I see is quite an astounding and inspiring city where resilience, adaptation, and opportunistic, bottom-up approaches flourish. Much of the pre-packaged and overly master-planned areas are failing.
They seem to lack a bit of soul, there are no openings for others to claim and appropriate to make space and place, they are generic and could be anywhere.
Novocastrians are masterful in their adaptive reuse or upcycling of buildings, civic precincts, and public realms. For me, this is largely because there is a deep appreciation of the place and an understanding that things are constantly changing.
There seems to be a great deal of romanticism about historic buildings and the foreshore without the need to preserve them in perpetuity.
This openness to other alternative uses and usefulness makes for richness.
Arguments around densification and high-rise living versus visual character and ‘‘appropriate development’’ avoid cleverness and lateral thinking.
How might the new engage with the existing? How might the new re-engage with place or construct new ideas of place?
How might our city and region be responsive to a recent challenge set by the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in making our cities and regional centres liveable and vibrant as a key priority of every level of government?
Professor SueAnne Ware is the new head of school of architecture and the built environment at the University of Newcastle. She will be one of the speakers at the Newcastle Institute forum New Newcastle: What could (and should) our new city look like, on Wednesday, October 14, 6pm, at South Newcastle Leagues Club.