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  • Governance diagram for Integrated Design Strategy for inner Adelaide by Laura Lee.

Design Strategies for City Shaping

South Australia’s 5000+ strategy offers a model for urban development based on collaborative and design thinking. Ben Hewett presents the framework that brought about the success of this project.

In South Australia the Integrated Design Commission (IDC), operating 2010-12, and its key project, the Integrated Design Strategy for inner Adelaide (5000+), created step changes in design consciousness, urban planning, city vibrancy and quality of architecture that are now clearly evident.

The formation of the IDC was a key recommendation from An Integrated Design Strategy for South Australia – Building the Future, the final report from Thinker in Residence Laura Lee. In her report Lee identifies the centrality of integrated design as an agent for a sustainable future and a better human experience. She also advocates the importance of collaborative engagement across sectors and disciplines.

The IDC was founded on a collaborative leadership model – a state government architect, an independent commissioner for integrated design and a public sector director – located within the Department of Premier and Cabinet. A small interdisciplinary support team made up the IDC, with an extended additional team for the 5000+ project consisting of architects, landscape architects and graphic designers performing traditional design roles, but also leading community and stakeholder engagement and participation, policy formation and design thinking workshops.

5000+ was a capital city strategic planning process conceived as a partnership between the Australian Government, a key state department and the inner metro councils. The aim was to develop both a strategy for inner Adelaide and a design-led model for city shaping in Australia. It demonstrated how to connect the Council of Australian Government Reform Council’s nine criteria for strategic planning, with state government objectives and local council targets. 5000+ brought these three components together as interrelated and mutually supportive, rather than focusing on their differences. Integrated design thinking connected the three tiers of government, education and industry in a collaborative process that raised ambitions, fostered creativity and offered viable alternatives to established norms.

Along with ongoing research and analysis (refer Knowledge Base Report: Atlas of Urban Innovation), a broad and inclusive civic conversation about Adelaide was led by the 5000+ team to drive a shared understanding of the issues facing the city (refer Context and Issues Report). The early research involved analysis of 200 precedents from around the world involved in city renewal to develop principles to guide the development of the integrated design strategy – itself an evolving, emergent, experimental model. Ten principles were synthesised from the research to guide the development of the project.

Ten principles of 5000+:

1. Be human centred
2. Take a systems approach
3. Engage the community
4. Develop a shared vision and guiding principles
5. Establish an evidence base early
6. Design test and visualise
7. Collaborate
8. Utilise technology
9. Use demonstration projects to showcase exemplary procurement
10. Set up ongoing monitoring and measurement

These principles offer a way into articulating both what we need in our urbanised regions and the benefits of what strategic or integrated design thinking offers cities.

To develop the shared vision for the city (refer Vision and Guiding Principles: A vision for an authentic, inclusive and innovative Adelaide), a process of design testing and prototyping was interweaved with design-led community engagement processes (refer Engagement Feedback Report: Great Ideas for a Great City).

While the Government elected to dissolve the IDC after a change in political leadership (Premier Jay Weatherill assumed leadership from Mike Rann at the end of 2011), the 5000+ process and the value of design thinking for government was recognised by politicians. At the final exhibition which delivered the project recommendations, Premier Weatherill said the Integrated Design Strategy represents, “much more than just an urban design proposition, it’s actually a recipe for the way in which we want to run this state. If we get this right, then this is the image we can project to the whole world”.

Deputy Premier and Planning Minister John Rau in opening the exhibition stated: “Engagement is something that can catalyse the many disparate thoughts of individuals in the community and bring them together into something meaningful, which can be developed for the benefit of the whole community and that has been one of the tremendous outcomes of this 5000+ project. This has been a catalyst. It’s been a catalyst for thinking. It’s been a catalyst for engagement. … but we can’t lose the momentum. … we have to keep the pressure on ourselves.”

Demonstrating the fundamental nature of design as both a process and a product, the various reports, proposals and recommendations were as much about how to do things as about what things to do (refer Place Shaping Framework). The final 98 recommendations were grouped in three areas of future directions:


  • People – the way that we engage, govern and take responsibility for the future of inner Adelaide.
  • Process – the way that we procure, measure and manage the best outcomes for inner Adelaide.
  • Urban Networks – the way we integrate and connect our physical environments to create better places for people.

Furthermore, a series of priority precincts and opportunities for inner Adelaide were identified within the Place Shaping Framework through working with project partners. These areas were drawn from projects already underway by state and local government as well as industry and community groups. By continuing to foster an integrated approach, focusing on these places could demonstrate and deliver the framework and achieve the long term vision.

  • Governance diagram for Integrated Design Strategy for inner Adelaide by Laura Lee.

The project raised the consciousness of design significantly, with an implicit agenda to inform and educate decision makers. Working collaboratively and in partnerships on every initiative, participants were exposed first hand to design processes and methodologies employed by the 5000+ team. In brokering new relationships and spanning divides between disciplines, sectors and tiers of government, a strong network was established that continues despite political and bureaucratic changes. The Office for Design and Architecture (ODASA) the design agency following the IDC, continues the trajectory of some of the initiatives within the reformed Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure.

The success of the project lies in the subsequent take-up by government agencies of many proposals as their own, albeit with changes to meet their own KPIs, but fundamentally recognising the premise of the project. Specifically this has resulted in a number of initiatives: a state focus on city activation with an integrated public domain; formalised, consistent and robust design review processes for any project or precinct of significance, government or private; recommendations for a revised planning system to place design quality centrally (with some early implementation); and a front foot agenda for government of supporting South Australian architectural and design professions internationally.

In addition, following the advocacy and speculative work from the IDC and 5000+, significant political, government and industry focus has been brought to the Riverbank area with an overall strategic framework and spatial master plans undertaken for specific precincts such as Festival Plaza precinct, the Bio-Medical and Health precinct and the Integrated Cultural Campus. Processes of engagement and broader inclusion devised during the IDC tenure have also informed some of these, most notably the open competition for the Old Royal Adelaide Hospital Site. Given the reluctance of the bureaucratic environment in 2010, when the IDC started, to even contemplate the need for master planning when delivering key infrastructure projects in the city, the built consequences are still catching up; however the political comprehension of the need for quality an integrated public realm is now well understood and forms the basis of ongoing decision making. Further, IDC and ODASA staff have spread through to diverse government agencies, into local government, and have started new practices ensuring the ideas and ways of working continue to find new opportunities for innovation and advocation for design.

Ben Hewett
Director of 5000+ An Integrated Design Strategy for inner Adelaide 2010-12
South Australian Government Architect 2010-14 

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To access all 5000+ reports mentioned in this article please visit: 5000plus.net.au/library_resources/reports