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And then there were two: Sydney in the running to be 2020 World Design Capital

by July 22, 2017 General

Amid a population and building boom, Sydney has been named as one of two global cities vying to become the “world design capital” in 2020.

Alongside the French city of Lille, Sydney has been shortlisted to run a year-long program of global events drawing together leaders in design, manufacture and urban planning to help shape the future direction of the global tourist destination challenged by break-neck urban expansion and a warming climate.

In the manner of the Sydney Olympics, two members from the selection committee of the World Design Organisation, the Montreal-based peak body for industrial design, arrived on Thursday to inspect and evaluate proposed event locations ahead of their final decision in Italy in October.

Sydney bid organisers view the World Design Capital program as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to broaden public engagement in a necessary but radical redesign of the city from a single economically strong CBD to three “30-minute cities”.

“The centre of gravity is moving to the west,” architect and bid co-author Tim Horton said. “So often infrastructure is what we need, the design is how we achieve that in terms of landscape, architecture and in industrial products. Can better design save the world? No, it cannot. Can it help? Definitely.”

The bid is the work of a non profit organisation, Design Sydney, formed in November and backed by the City of Parramatta, NSW Architects Registration Board, Good Design Australia, Lendlease, Frost Collective, Cox Architecture, the Committee for Sydney, Deloittes and the universities of Technology, Sydney and NSW among others.

The City of Sydney has not contributed towards the $8 million event costs. Council was a strong advocate of design excellence, the mayor’s office said, but was not in a position to become the lead agency responsible for underwriting the events.

Parramatta will be the official host city in a bid that acknowledges the population of Sydney’s greater metropolitan area will double to eight million in 40 years, the same size that London is today.

“Sydney’s governance is complex, with three layers of government that always overlap but rarely collaborate,” the bid document states. “Decision making does not always align with the right level of impact. For us it’s develop first, plan next and design if there’s time remaining.”

Six flagship events are planned for Sydney, including opening and closing events at the Sydney Opera House. A design camp and masterclass on Cockatoo Island aims to partner 200 global city leaders with 50 emerging designers and architects.

Barangaroo would be the launch site for one of Sydney’s largest festivals of designs and ideas. Events would not be confined to “a black box convention centre”, says Mr Horton, and the program was “very much about throwing the Sydney design experience onto the street, into people’s front yards and living rooms”.

To this end, there are plans for a month-long World Design Street Festival which will see the Cahill Expressway and other local streets temporarily closed to traffic for community celebrations to show streets can be designed for people, not just cars. 

The Festival of the Front Yard will consider the design of streets and post-war homes and promote outdoor neighbourhood dining experiences with Parramatta’s laneways to come alive with food and design stalls representative of the city’s diverse cultures. 

“You only have to look at the Palm Beach couple who died alone,” Mr Horton said. “This is not just about products and objects. It is about designing ways that communities can be stronger, safer and more connected.”

One of the city’s biggest design challenges was to intensify economic activity in western Sydney so residents had shorter commutes to work, David Borger, Western Sydney director of the Sydney Business Chamber said.

“And how do we build high density buildings that people like to live in and don’t look tired after three years? We need to find a way to improve design and material quality. The battle between town planners and developers hasn’t produced greatness.” 

Design was less about aesthetics and more about improving the way workplaces, transport networks, hospitals, schools and neighbourhoods functioned, said Vince Frost, chief executive officer of the Frost Collective.

He hoped the WDO designation would help the public see beyond the immediate inconvenience of scaffolding and road closures to the wider purpose of design in building a more resilient, inclusive city.

Mr Horton expects the events could bring export opportunities. “Milan is home to furniture and fashion, we think of Denmark as the home of product innovation and we honestly think, hand on our heart, that if Sydney designs its way out of its problems we can export those solutions to the 100 new smart cities in India, to China and the Asia Pacific.” 

Sydney’s leading design innovations:

The Cochlear Implant – Integrating electronics with surgical procedures and ergonomic design, the implant has changed the lives of thousands of hearing-impaired people world-wide.

Google Maps! Sydney-based designers Lars and Jens Rasmussen developed Google Maps in 2001 out of Sydney’s Google Office, which remains the global headquarters for its map development today.

Pedestrian crossing button – In the early 1980s Sydney consultants Nielsen Design Associates were asked to redesign the old button so it was easy to find and push. The vibrating button with arrow has sold throughout Australia, the US and Singapore giving millions of pedestrians with vision, hearing and physical impairments freedom to move about independently. 

Sydney Opera House – A powerful symbol of the enduring value of great design, Utzon’s Opera House was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2007.

The Burqini –  Aheda Zanetti designed the Burqini/Burkini in Sydney to give Muslim women the chance to take part in competitive and recreational sports. Her swimwear is also in demand from women who want sun safe garments and styles that provide more coverage.