Dan Hill

Dan Hill’s got a bit of a fan club in Australia. So there was no surprise that the announcement in April that he was to be director for The University of Melbourne’s School of Design was well received. (No pressure, Dan.)

Speaking to The Fifth Estate for the How to Build a Better World podcast, Dan says it’s a job that’s lured him back to Oz after more than 10  years away.

More than a few people had been following his work – me included, after meeting him at an Arup event he was part of,  intrigued by his provocations and original thinking.  

I loved dipping into his City of Sound blog that kept tabs on his projects in Scandinavia, the UK and Italy. The blog’s title alone was enough to capture the imagination, but it came replete with interesting ideas, essays and snippets from other publications.  And always something to surprise.

Dean of the school, professor Julie Willis told me at his appointment that what was particularly interesting was Dan’s blend of skills from urban infrastructure to technology that she thinks students would crucially need by the time they graduated.  

Among his bigger projects were design of social and cultural infrastructures for Manchester, Google, the University of Melbourne campus, and on buildings such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, British Library, UAE Museum of the Future, State Library of Queensland, and the Collingwood Yards. And most recently the concept of the one-minute city. Think about that for a while to really nail the nucleus of what “local” can mean.

Most recently he worked at Stockholm University in Sweden, where he held the position of Director of Strategic Design for the Swedish Government’s innovation and research agency, Vinnova.

There was also the “influential” book Dark Matter & Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary, as the university noted in its announcement of the appointment.

Dan’s job officially is to run the graduate school and the faculty, which is interesting in itself, because it includes building and planning.

“It’s a good set of disciplines in house” he tells us in the podcast. “There’s architecture, urban design, landscape architecture, urban planning, we have urban and cultural heritage, we have construction and property, which is kind of interesting.”

He’ll be trying to “flip the university inside out”, connecting better to “industry, the public sector, multiple levels of government, community groups and to questions of country or land or place”.

Interesting too is that he doesn’t see design as key to problem solving and says engineers are better at that.

“What design is good at is asking the questions and reframing things.”

And there’s this Swedish concept he likes around a “living environment” which goes so much further than the built environment we are all used to hearing about. 

It’s a great conversation. But put your thinking cap on.

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