Community collaboration, ownership, unique experiences and the need for flexible, adaptive space are all prerequisites when planning, designing and activating great places.

In March we hosted our inaugural Future of Place Forum. The cross-industry event saw cities, government, architects and designers, developers, bankers and property professionals, urbanists, social innovation specialists and change agents from across the world gather to share knowledge and agree best practice around how to unlock the “place potential” in communities across Australia.

The Future of Place initiative aims to unearth what our staff feel, customers value and global experts believe is the future of place. The forum was the first step in distilling and curating the insights gathered to date. The next stage is to create a framework that will shape and guide the design and development of memorable and unique places.

The day itself was divided into three sessions: planning, design and activation, each sparking discussion around what we believe are the important elements for great place making.

Marcus Westbury, creative director and founder of Renew Australia, was the first keynote speaker of the day. Marcus and his team breathed life back into Newcastle City Centre, after 150 buildings and shop fronts lay empty and disused, by assisting small business and entrepreneurs to secure short-term leases.

Marcus believes that activity creates activity, and that flexibility needs to be engineered into the blueprints for new places and precincts at the planning stage, to allow buildings to adapt easily to different uses once they are built.

He claims that we live in a world where our culture is becoming more diverse, with an infinite variety of reference points and niche interests. People want diversity and places that reflect their individuality. When planning spaces and places, planners should think about creating the physical infrastructure that nurtures small businesses and initiatives, and is flexible enough to allow them to grow. That means places can evolve and establish themselves organically, creating a sense of ownership for the community.

Joyous meandering

Keynote speaker for the design session, Phil Kim, is the co-CEO and managing director Asia of Jerde Partnerships. With notable past projects including Langham Place Hong Kong, Roppongi Hills and the Ratchaprasong district of Bangkok, Phil’s experience covers mixed-use design, retail, urban revitalisation, vertical cities and building socially sustainable principles over a dozen cities around Asia Pacific.

Phil said great places should allow for “joyous meandering”. People should be able to traverse safely and leisurely, engaging with the space. Las Ramblas in Barcelona is an example of a great place. It draws people in and entertains them for an average of 6-8 hours, offering a sense of meandering and discovery, surprising people with many hidden gems, corners, squares and buildings all full of permanent and temporary activations.

Roppongi Hills, Japan

He also spoke about architecture that should be like script writing, essentially providing something to be interpreted by others. One of the most interesting and surprising examples of adaptive space I have ever seen is at Roppongi Hills, one of Japan ‘s largest integrated property developments and retail centres in Tokyo, where the section of one of the malls designed for luxury brands has over time evolved into “Pet Court”, a collection of pet stores and services such as grooming, five-star pet hotels, dog food and other treats – even hand bags for dogs! It’s a dog’s paradise!

Executive director and co-founder of Friends of the High Line in New York Robert Hammond delivered an inspirational keynote to start the final session of the day, on activation. He told the story of how he worked to adapt an old, disused railway in New York for the use and enjoyment of modern day New Yorkers. The site took $150 million to build and its revenue today is $1 billion. The key to activating places in ways people love is community collaboration and involvement at every stage, he explained.

Richard claimed that he sought the input and feedback from the community at every step of the way when designing and building the High Line. Community consultation was essential in instilling a sense of ownership among locals. They didn’t take everything on board, of course, but the ideas helped them to arrive at where they were going, and if they didn’t want to do something it gave them the opportunity to explain why not. They also held a design competition, which also gave everyone the chance to be involved. The result is the creation of a special place that people feel they played a part in creating.

Open a dialogue first

Throughout the day, several key themes kept coming up in the conversation. A number of the speakers highlighted the need to ask the community, “What do you want to do?” This opens a dialogue but it does not commit to a solution. The importance of community ownership was repeated throughout the day, as the software of creating place was explained. The idea of creating experiences was also explored. These experiences can be built off of an emotional connection, the sense of belonging and authenticity, sometimes by embracing history. Other speakers warned of the dangers of rushing into a design and the importance of ensuring you have the script of a narrative in place first and do not commit to a [computer generated image] too early. It is clear that each and every place is different and so every response to place creation should be, but there are some fundamentals that can direct people to creating great places.

A full list of speakers at the Future of Place forum:

Session 1: Planning:

  • Marcus Westbury, creative director and founder, Renew Australia
  • Robert Moore, manager urban design and Docklands, City of Melbourne
  • Dr Joanne Jakovich, founder, SOUP Labs
  • Barrie Barton, strategy & insights director, Right Angle Studio
  • Chairperson: John Carfi, CEO, residential development, Mirvac

Session 2: Design:

  • Phil Kim, co-CEO and managing director Asia, Jerde Partnership, Inc
  • Lawrence Nield, Director, Studio Nield
  • Richard Francis-Jones, design director, Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp
  • Lucinda Hartley, CEO and co-founder, CoDesign Studio
  • Chairperson: David Rolls, group executive, commercial development, Mirvac

Session 3: Activation:

  • Robert Hammond, executive director and co-founder, Friends of the High Line, NY
  • Jess Miller, Grow It Local, GreenUps
  • Simon Griffiths, co-founder, Who Gives a Crap and director, Shebeen
  • Sacha Coles, Aspect Studios Australia
  • Chairperson, Susan MacDonald, general manager, retail, Mirvac

Paul Edwards is group general manager, sustainability at Mirvac.