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  • The City of Sydney’s George Street Concept Design – George Street and Barrack Street. Artist Impression by Doug and Wolf 2013.

Strategic Design: City of Sydney

As leader of the City Design team, Bridget Smyth is acutely aware of the importance of design skills and collaboration. Here, she reveals the strategies and principles used by the City of Sydney to ensure the ongoing success of their built environment developments.

The City of Sydney (the City) employs over 50 architects, landscape architects and urban designers in various aspects of city shaping and design. It is this combination of experience and skillsets that informs our vision for strategic development in Sydney. Together, we help solve the issues facing our city today: climate change, housing affordability, traffic congestion, connected public space and social equity among others.

  • The City of Sydney’s City Centre Public Art: Cloud Arch Concept, Junya Ishigami, 2014

City Design – Shaping Sydney

I lead the City Design team at the City; a small team of architects, urban designers, landscape architects and curators whose role is to think strategically about Sydney’s built environment, primarily the public domain. It is the core team that established Sustainable Sydney 2030 and is currently developing many of its key strategic directions with new policy, strategy and concept designs for projects that make the SS2030 vision concrete. This includes: developing concept designs for the new Sydney Light Rail project; public domain plans for the city centre and Green Square; directing the City’s public art program, City Art and finalising design codes for the public domain.

The City Design team is involved with the micro (new public domain furniture) and the macro (public domain strategies for Green Square, Chinatown and George Street) to ensure strategic design thinking and principles are embedded in our own projects, the work of the private sector and other government agencies within our local government area.

As a small team of 11 architects, urban designers, landscape architects and curators with a broad experience of complex infrastructure projects (Boston’s Big Dig and the Sydney Olympics) to award winning projects (Surry Hills Library) and public art works, we hold an optimistic view that strategic design can contribute to enhancing the quality of public life in our cities. We serve to translate the community and stakeholder aspirations into a global city context supported by a network of vibrant villages.

Strategy to Delivery

The City Design team is fortunate to not just speculate on the future of Sydney through developing strategic design ideas but also to be part of implementing these projects through the City’s capital works program. The City’s City Projects division subjects our strategic design projects to a rigorous delivery process where upon the community will benefit from the likes of public space, parks, streets, lanes, community buildings, libraries and pools.

We seek to synthesise the often complex and competing requirements of transport planning, planning controls, quality of the public domain and fiscal constraints into opportunities to improve our city’s built environment – often square metre by square metre. Our focus is typically the human condition, the pedestrian, and how their experience can be enriched through greater connectivity, accessibility, and creativity as we shape every project.

Models for Collaboration

To implement the strategic design work flowing from the City’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan, in Sydney’s complex governance environment, we must collaborate with our government counterparts the Government Architect’s Office, Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Barangaroo Delivery Authority and UrbanGrowth NSW and numerous private developers. We can only achieve a coherent city through the willingness to collaborate, not in spite of it. Sydney’s pressing need for new open space, social infrastructure and a more compact city is a shared vision. Without this collaboration, urban renewal projects that promise improved connectivity, affordable housing, much needed parks and public spaces are unlikely to be achieved.

Models of new collaboration for projects such as The Bays Precinct should be contemplated. Former London Mayor Ken Livingston’s Design For London group is a worthy model. Design for London acted as the city’s think tank for strategic design. Made up of key staff from across London’s key agencies it offered an integrated process for shaping new strategic projects across the many jurisdictions.

The City’s Design Advisory Panel, established by Lord Mayor Clover Moore in 2007 and chaired by Australian Institute of Architects President Elect Ken Maher provides a forum for strategic design thinking and peer review on Sydney’s major public and private projects. The panel balances its design review role with strategic thinking about the City’s policy and strategy work.

The City continues to shape Sydney effectively because it enjoys strong political leadership, strength of design skills embedded in our organisation and collaborators who are active in fields beyond our internal operations. From our Planning Division to our City Projects Division and Infrastructure and Operations Division (who maintain our city) and my own team, City Design, design thinking is prominent within our organisation to ensure we deliver on our Sustainable Sydney 2030 vision.

Bridget Smyth
Design Director, City of Sydney

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