Its basic message is that ethics, pragmatism and commerce are not antithetical, but complementary. Or to put it another way: good design is also good business.
The book is unusual in that it is an independent publication – that is, independent of mainstream publishing and of the architecture and design press. Andrew Hoyne runs a very successful branding consultancy whose clients include many in the property sector for whom he develops brand and marketing strategies. That might suggest he has a very particular slant on planning issues. But it may also suggest that he is looking at things from a very informed and realistic vantage point. The proposition that good design makes for good profits is not laboured in the book, although it is a proposition generally ignored in general architectural and planning discourse.
Before looking at the book in more detail, let me say this. The architecture and design press in Australia is in a bad place – if, indeed it is in any place at all. Publishers have long ignored architecture, urban planning and design. Generally speaking, the only books published in Australia in these areas are vanity publications, or what we in the business call contract books – books paid for by the subject of the books. This is a disgrace and highlights how Australia is a country without any cultural self-respect, especially as this situation applies to all cultural sectors, the visual arts in particular.
As far as the magazines are concerned the standard is very poor. This is hardly surprising given that they are staffed largely by very young, unqualified and inexperienced people who are exploited with laughably low salaries, poor working conditions and outrageously long hours. For the most part, architectural and design discussion in Australia takes place in la-la land, blithely oblivious to the realities of everyday life. This, of course, does not reflect the day-to-day reality of practitioners, big and small – but especially the large ‘commercial’ architectural practices – who constantly have to deal with glass-jawed developers, inert bureaucracy, out-of-control building and material costs and an over-cooked spaghetti of suffocating regulation.
Landscape architects and urban designers, however, tend to be exceptions – perhaps because they work very much in the real world and their decisions affect large numbers of people.
So, having got that off my chest, let me now look at what kind of contribution Andrew Hoyne has made with his book to the discussion about how we can make the Australian built environment a much richer place than it currently is.
The short answer is that his contribution is outstanding, beginning with the imagination and care that has gone into the design of the book. It is highly accessible and visually stimulating. A lot of thought has gone into ensuring that the information and opinion contained in the book is presented clearly and in a very navigable way – over 382 pages!.
In other words, thought has been given to how the book will be read. This extends to the language which eschews ‘archi-speak’ and focuses instead on plain English without ever compromising the ideas or the need for context. The book is divided into eight themed sections, each of which begins with a brief overview of the section.
Hence, we have sections about health and wellbeing, walkability, the liveability of cities etc.
The texts are a mixture of short essays, conversations and interviews while the writers are a who’s-who of Australian planning and architecture, and including a number of prominent international people such as Jan Gehl and Alain de Botton. Each section includes case studies ranging from the Ellenbrook new-town in Perth through Melbourne’s urban strategies to the Cheonggyecheon Stream in Seoul and initiatives in Beijing, Rotterdam, Singapore, Chicago, New York and Christchurch.
The book is richly illustrated with the design broken up by bold full-bleed photos, double-page graphic spreads, illustrations and typographic variety. Basically, this book is a resource. It provides an historical overview of urban planning as well as detailed exposition of current thinking – which can be summed up by the term ‘placemaking’.
While it certainly exposes the flaws in past, indeed current, urban planning, it is a remarkably positive book. It sets out to generate enthusiasm for new initiatives, whether it be the transformation of Melbourne CBD, visionary schemes in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Stockholm, the future of Parramatta or how to make densification more liveable.
© Paul McGillick 2017