Thursday, October 28, 2010

Creating Artificial Reefs in Thailand.

Did you ever have a fish tank and put random objects in the bottom of the tank (such as pirate ships, treasure chests or figurines of scuba divers) for the fish to use as their houses? Thailand is doing the same thing now - only their fish tank is the ocean. The image above shows workers using an earthmover to push an old tank from a ship into the sea off Narathiwat province, southern Thailand in August this year. Twenty five junk tanks were transported from Bangkok and dumped at sea in the Gulf of Thailand to help forming artificial reefs and providing homes for fish.

Sociopolis: A Rurban Housing Project in Spain

Five years ago, a housing project called 'Sociopolis' - a shared habitat - was proposed for Valencia, Spain. This project was aimed at triggering social interaction between inhabitants, proposing a new type of housing for the family structures of our time, and offering an environment of high quality.

Now it's becoming reality; roads are being build, and trees are being planted.

The main focus is on the social actions that a neighborhood should trigger, in order to create well-being in the city. Looking back in history, the construction site used to be the fertile region of Valencia since the time of the arabs, with clever irrigation systems, orchards and vegetable gardens.
What happens usually when european cities grow, is that nature and agriculture gets pushed aside. Rural and urban become two opposites that are hardly connected. For the arabs however, the vegetable plantations were their gardens, that formed part of the landscape and provide food for each family.
For the architects Vicente Guallart, (and his team) who presented the philosophy of the project at Barcelona Design Week, it was important to bring back the rural into the city; they call it rurban.
City vegetable gardens bring back the culture of the kitchen garden and its values, getting citizens involved again in the production and consumption pattern of today's economy. Eating locally grown food is not only more environmentally-friendly, but also makes you see where your food comes from, and what it takes to grow it.
Apart from creating houses with a view on gardens, Sociopolis is designed for the new way people get into groups to live together. Standard families (two parents and 1 or 2 kids) are now less than 50% of the Spanish families, and people have other needs. 8% of the population has some kind of disability and the new generations are expected to live much longer, which means that houses need to be made accessible, and livable, for all kinds of people, in order to avoid social exclusion.
The first stage of Sociopolis is currently being build; 2,500 homes on 35 ha on the shore of the river Turia in Valencia. The existing vegetable gardens and fertile lands are being protected, an irrigation system is being constructed and the historic country houses that exist on the land are being restored. Sociopolis aims not only to be a housing project, but wants to bring back the rural to the city, create a new kind of landscape and enhance citizen's well-being through a more social and natural environment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brisbane CityCycle: Strap on Your Helmets

The first stage of the Brisbane CityCycle was launched on October 1st and is aimed at reducing traffic congestion and parking pressures in the inner city by replacing cars with bicycles. Once complete, CityCycle will offer up to 2,000 bikes at 150 stations from Newstead to St Lucia at a cost of $10 million, primarily targeted towards inner city commuters.

From a liveability perspective, the idea behind this scheme ticks all the right boxes. Of the seven elements of liveability described by US-based (and now launching in the Asia-Pacific, with THG as a founding member) Partners for Livable Communities, CityCycle particularly focuses on the categories of health and wellness, environment and quality of life. Ben Wilson of Bicycle Queensland said in a recent Brisbane News article that the scheme will “humanise our inner city streets, making them friendlier,” an outcome which can only result in special places to live, work and play.

However, the introduction of the scheme has not been without issues. The push to ‘Europeanise Brisbane’ doesn’t take into account the current lack of infrastructure available to Brisbane bike riders. Our streets are not as wide, flat and pedestrian friendly as ones in European cities, and the animosity between bike riders and drivers is evident in surveys such as a 2009 RACQ Pet Peeves survey, where 10,000 motorists voted cyclists disobeying the road rules as number 3 in a list of top ten frustrating issues on the road. However, this is a ‘chicken and egg’ question. Do we wait until the infrastructure is in place before we introduce schemes such as these or, do we do as the best innovators do, and take action in the hope of encouraging change?

Read the full THG In The Know story here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sustainability of the Property Industry

THG and Ashe Morgan Winthrop dusted off the crystal ball this morning to discuss the future of the property industry.

According to presenters, Richard Katter and Dan Holden, one of the most significant outcomes from the Global Financial Crisis has been the market’s re-pricing of risk. They identified the means by which property market participants can manage this in regard to changing market demands and finance.

Both Dan and Richard spoke about the importance of doing your homework, particularly on the types of dwellings and price points offered to market.
Sustainability of the Industry. In particular, Richard's analysis of average incomes and the affect this has on purchasing power, compared to the price points of stock in the market shows a large disconnect between the price points in demand and the price points being supplied. This trend applies across Brisbane and the Gold Coast. According to Richard, detailed analysis is vital for the future sustainability of our industry.

Check out the chart which demonstrates this disconnect, particularly in the Brisbane market. The red lines show purchaser distribution (demand) and the blue lines are market distribution (supply)and indicate the over supply at the top end of the market.

If you want to know more about what was discussed, contact Richard at

"Technology's got nothing to do with it...

I found a great quote in the latest edition of Property Australia magazine:

Temple Sagrada Familia, Barcelona: "In terms of the power of the idea, the technology's got nothing to do with it because Gaudi dreamed it up before the technology. But in terms of realising the idea, without today's technology it would have been pretty hard to pull off"*.

One of the Directors at THG put this on my desk based on a discussion about new web technologies, but in retyping it, I think the real meaning is in the fact that Gaudi didn't let a lack of technology stop him from dreaming big. Just because there are nay-sayers out there, doesn't mean we can't imagine - and work out the details later. I was at a conference earlier in the year where a presenter said "design it as though you don't have to build it or pay for it" - a concept which certainly frees the mind to think of concepts that are totally outside the box.

*Mark Burry, a professional research fellow at the Victoria University at Wellington, Innovation Professor of Architecture and director of the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory, the Design Research Institute at RMIT in Melbourne and executive architect and researcher at the Temple Sagrada Familia.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Got Green Space?

I just found this little gem on the map magazine blog - a website called 'We Patch'. Essentially, it matches up wannabe gardeners with those who have some garden space to share. According to the website, "is an urban gardening project that brings together people looking for gardening space with those who have space to offer. By facilitating local, small-scale agriculture, we aim to strengthen neighborhood communities, foster healthy lifestyles, and promote environmental stewardship." There are plenty of other garden sharing sites popping up such as Yardish, Hyperlocavore, BK Farmyards, Urban Garden Share, Growfriend, and Landshare just to name a few.
This ties strongly back into the concept of liveability. According to the US based Partners for Livable Communities (of which THG is a foundation member of the Australian chapter), liveability is the result of seven categories, of which health and wellness, environment and quality of life feature heavily (alongside equity, economy, education and leadership). This scheme demonstrates a way to build communities, as well as making the best possible use of our space. It turns private space into public space, one of the basic principles of good urban design. According to Good magazine, the aim of these spaces is to "connect the estimated 40 percent of people in the United States without yard space with the 21 million acres of idle, underused space that’s currently being occupied by lawns."
What do you think? Would you get involved in a scheme like this? Would it work in Australia?