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The most efficient division of land responded to the principle modes of movement — horse-drawn coach and walking — and the tight urban pattern reflected time as a natural limit to movement.
An additional overlay was the availability of capital: development was funded by many small individual investments, with a lack of means to amass funds for large-scale projects.
The result was an incremental, plot-by-plot growth of small buildings. Frontage widths ranged from as little as two to three metres in extreme cases to a more common five to six metres.
The resultant smallness of the city as experienced by the pedestrian was a direct product of ownership patterns.
In the late nineteenth century, plot amalgamation began as increasingly ambitious monuments to insurance companies, coffee palaces and banks were built on consolidated plots with as many as three street frontages.
This pattern of consolidation continued incrementally until the postwar period, when the tearing down and replacement of nineteenth-century built fabric accelerated.
Spurred on by new forms of investment trusts, sophisticated financiers and multinational corporations, the speculative office was born.
This building type, with its efficient large floorplates, airconditioning and need for views, swallowed entire city blocks.
Examples include Australia Square in Sydney , which consumed 19 individual plots and two laneways, and Melbourne Central , which consumed more than 50 lots and 11 laneways.
Featuring buildings by SJB, Silvester Fuller and Studio Bright, Loftus Lane at Quay Quarter employs fine-grain design and diverse land uses to humanize several blocks in central Sydney.
Image: Courtesy of AMP Capital. Over the course of the twentieth century, we can trace a direct correlation between the scale of potential investment and the scale of urban buildings.
Where does this leave architects in our highly financialized cities of ? We are increasingly being positioned between a regulatory desire for fine grain and an investment tendency toward steroidal scale.
But what is the problem with bigness and its broad building frontages, singular megastructural architectural gestures and mass amalgamation of urban plots?
Are our esteemed urban design champions in government simply stuck in the past? Journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs was the first to neatly articulate the challenges of mega projects when she took on planner Robert Moses in postwar New York.
Building on the observational analysis of the likes of Jacobs, the urban design profession has sought to understand grain and complexity in urban environments through scientific means.
Colin Ellard, Raymond Isaacs and Peter Bosselmann have connected neuroscience and urban design through the analysis of cognitive patterns and indicators of happiness, boredom and anxiety.
Sensors have been deployed to measure heart rates and cortisol levels to understand causes of stress in urban environments.
For 50 Lonsdale Street in Melbourne also known as The Urban Workshop , architects John Wardle Architects, Hassell and NH Architecture took the narrow nineteenth-century laneways and streets as their reference point for the ground-level design.
Speed and transport modes have been rediscovered as central concepts. The average pedestrian speed of 1. The information that can be registered at this speed is dramatically different to that seen by a pedestrian, and it begins to disfigure urban environments into a blur of excessive horizontality.
As people can move further and faster between different car-centric uses, the economic basis for tightly knit fine-grain uses is undermined. If fine-grain environments are more conducive to walking, and walking delivers environmental, health and wellbeing benefits, then what of the economic effects?
If a key component of neoliberal urban government is to stimulate opportunities in the economy, then a high-functioning walking economy is essential.
These environments offer cheaply available space and small tenancy sizes that reduce the barriers to entry for new businesses, facilitating lower start-up costs, short-term leases and low staff costs.
Allchin would argue that only once these economic preconditions have been enabled can the purported benefits of fine grain begin to accrue. What methods are now employed by our cities to coerce, incentivize and negotiate for grain, against the seemingly inevitable bigness of large-scale global capital?
What precedents can we look to? The retention of these volumes allowed for them to be sold, leased, adaptively re-used and changed every seven to ten years as required to keep pace with the city, while the tower remains a static year proposition limited to internal upgrades to HVAC, bathrooms and lobbies.
The investor gets the uplift of the tower floorspace transferred away from the heritage buildings and the city benefits from the physical character of grain and, more importantly, the diversity of spaces and rent profiles within the retained buildings.
In central Sydney, the regulatory framework has evolved to incentivize small tenancies in large-scale development.
In these projects, city officers have creatively repurposed a planning provision intended to facilitate activation of existing service areas fronting laneways and adapted it to a new development context.
Director Six Degrees Architects s. Chinese City Masterplanning Sydney Director Urban Designer NSW Government Sydney Metropolitan Strategy Adjunct Professor of Architecture UTS, ongoing Visiting Lecturer in Urban Design, , Graduate School of Design, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia USA.
Adjunct Professor of Architecture, University of Technology Sydney. Adjunct Professor of Architecture, UTS, Sydney based Urban Design consultant , University of Technology Sydney.
University of Melbourne, BArch. Flux d'articles Rejoint 31 janvier