Studio Director, Tim Leslie, is one of several Bates Smart FFG alumni. Fresh from the success of this year's Open House Melbourne (OHM) he talks to the FFG about his reasons for co- founding OHM and shares his observations on how density in Melbourne should be embraced.
FFG: Tell us about your project, Open House Melbourne (OHM)...how did you come up with the idea?
TL: Open House was an idea that was spawned when I was working in London and took part in the Open House London event as a volunteer. It was such an incredibly powerful way to engage with the public and to explain why design matters. It provided context to the city and how the built fabric reflects the culture of place, and their history. It wasn’t until I was accepted to be part of the Future Focus Group two years later that this idea came back into focus.
We had to come up with an idea which could be delivered within two years that would improve Melbourne - Open House seemed to be a perfect fit. A key aspect for the event was that it must be 'free' - if we wanted to have a dialogue with the people of Melbourne it should be an invitation to all. It was our belief that a paid event generally engages with those already invested and therefore is not an agent for change. We wanted to have people from all walks of life to be greeted by a diverse cross section of buildings of significance
FFG: How do you see OHM developing in the future?
TL: The role Open House plays in providing the general public an insight into the role good design plays in creating a better built environment is fundamental to a better city - it can assist in framing arguments about why we need higher density housing, or dock and transport hubs, why certain buildings should be retained and others let go. Melbourne prides itself on being one the world's most liveable cities and good design is a key plan in achieving this.
Good design can provide better health outcomes, improved work efficiencies, streamlined infrastructure solutions, safer and more engaging urban environments and importantly, imbedded sustainable solutions.
However, we need to understand the need for change, that cities are always in flux, and we need to allow for new buildings to emerge to allow for good design to continue to prosper. Hence we believe that Open House is a perfect avenue to start this dialogue.
FFG: Are there any observations you would like to share, in your capacity as an Architect, on how Melbourne is continuing to take shape with a heavier density element?
TL: It is simply inevitable that Melbourne will continue to density and fundamental to the success of this growth is planning.
There are a number of key elements which I believe should make us feel more favourably about density. The State Government has made a number of decisions, which I personally believe are positive, to improve apartment standards and to place new controls over the central city. The City of Melbourne continues to forge ahead with innovative planning approaches, such as the urban forest project or pedestrianisation of Elizabeth Street.
However, from a design perspective, a crucial aspect of increased density is ensuring we protect and continue to grow quality green spaces and generate a walking based community around our homes. Increased density provides critical mass to support key local based industries, which in turn can assist in forming strong communities. Walking and access to green space has been shown to greatly reduce illness and with health care becoming a significant concern in our aging population this has a significant benefit to our economy. Whilst green spaces are the easiest places to build upon, we should be looking for innovative alternatives to create the density we require and rewarding solutions which achieve this.
It is crucial that we commit to the implementation of infrastructure to support the growing transfer of goods and people. There are also opportunities to look at more flexible zoning approaches, to allow for a diverse range of activities to co-exist to serve rapidly changing areas and we should be supportive of new and innovative housing models.
Finally, having worked on Open House for over nine years now, one of the things that strikes me the most is how much cities change and evolve over time - Melbourne in the 1950's was a completely different city to the one we live in today. Change is not bad, change needs to be embraced and planned for in a positive and strategic fashion - importantly this needs bipartisan support as it is beyond a parliamentary term - true change simply takes sustained time and belief, it takes leadership.
Read the full interview here