Past Forward: How Australian Vertical Urbanism Can Learn from its Tall Building Heritage

Giorgio Marfella
University of Melbourne, Melbourne

Sketching a comparison between Melbourne and Sydney, this presentation celebrated the evolutionary trajectory of development of vertical urbanism that flourished in Australia since the 1950s. While Sydney indulged in heroic modernism, Melbourne’s skyline in the 20th century was rather anti-iconic and oriented towards a citywide urban response that was instrumental for the construction of the city's highly-celebrated and ”livable” infrastructure.

A breaking point of this progressive trend in Australian high-rise construction occurred after two major financial crises, but the disappointing built-forms and perceptions of a ”homogeneous” and indistinct skyline of some Australian cityscapes today has little to do with surrendering to commercial glass box templates. Much more is owed to a contemporary loss of memory and the laissez-faire of discretionary planning and deregulation. Hints of a disconnection between architecture and engineering, and an excessive reduction of the role of designers, are also indicators that explain why construction methodologies that minimize risk may have become more pervasive than opportunities for radical innovation.

Designers and tall building stakeholders, who operate in Australia today, should look more carefully at the tall building heritage of their cities, learning from that contextual past. In the indistinct square commercial boxes of the past, there are opportunities for conservation and lessons to discover that are still pertinent for the present and future of tall urban habitats.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

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