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Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

RESEARCH PROJECT: VISUALISING THEORY – AIRPORT WEST, MELBOURNE INTRODUCTION The concentration of urban development has rapidly changed in the last few decades. These days, it is obvious that many efforts have been made to create a sustainable environment as well as pedestrian friendly spaces within the city after the visible impact of modernist concept. To begin with, in its originality, people think of a city as a huge place of many diverse activities. Alexander in his essay titled A City Is Not A Tree (1965) clearly states that natural cities have grown voluntarily over the years, creating overlap elements of activities within and a complex system along the way. Cities in its originality were designed to accommodate human activities. However, throughout the process of economy and technology developments, the use of automobiles slowly dominated the city. In modern architecture era, this had become a major issue, where streets and spaces in city were remodeled to accommodate the vast growing vehicle usage, setting aside the need for city dwellers to walk and linger in city’s streets. Cities quickly became car-oriented spaces. Today, many urban theorists have acknowledged this issue. Gehl in his book titled Cities for People (2010) explains how cities have grown away from its people and argues that city must be given back to the people. In contemporary developments, many urban designers have made an effort to tackle this issue and many had successfully done a good job to restore the life within the city. Gehl in his book also mentions several big cities around the world that have changed their focus from cars to pedestrian life— and this includes Melbourne. However, it is time to look deeper into this statement. It is true to Gehl’s words that Melbourne Central Business District area is mostly pedestrian friendly, cars are unable to access certain area where most pedestrian and public transport—such as tram and bus—activities are gathered. Pedestrian never stops walking at these areas, from morning to night the city never really asleep—proving it livable in so many levels. However, while many good things can be said about Melbourne CBD as walk-able and pedestrian friendly area, what happens to the rest of the area in the city outside of the CBD? Suburbs are still part of the city and with the rapid growing population in Melbourne, many suburbs will undeniably grow to become a ‘city’ by itself. Certain plans in Melbourne are being talked to make this happen—and some suburbs have the potential and the chance to grow bigger more than the others—despite its current urban condition that might get in the way of making it a successful plan. That being said, Airport West is a particularly interesting suburb in North-West Melbourne that has equally both many urban potentials and issues in terms of future livable, pedestrian-friendly centre activity area. This essay will particularly focus on researching this topic—analyzing and solving the current urban condition in Airport West, its potentials and what it could be in the future according to New Urbanism. CHAPTER 1 PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT TO PEDESTRIAN ACTIVITIES Throughout the years, public transport development has become the ultimate solution for many urban developers in reducing the use of private vehicles in cities. Nowadays, it is only logical to say that the


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

more a place is connected and easier to reach using public transport, the less people will use automobiles to get to places. And if less people use cars, more spaces in cities can be remodeled back for pedestrian activities. “Good public space and a good public transport system are simply two sides of the same coin.”( Gehl 2010, p.23) It is of no use to create attractive new public spaces within the city if people still opt to use cars to do their activities. Improving the quality of public spaces in the human scale will also give little to no impact to pedestrian life if people find it easier to use private vehicles than walk and use public transport. Bike and pedestrian lanes become lifeless if the majority of the people around the area still use automobiles as a result of not enough public transport system that connects the area to other places—which depict the current situation in Airport West and will be analyzed in detail on the next chapter. Gehl in his book particularly in the chapter of The Human Dimension talks about the successful pedestrian life in Melbourne CBD, but a deeper look into this will tell us that the city loop system (figure 1) in Melbourne plays a major role in improving the pedestrian life in CBD. The city is well connected by train, tram and bus to and from the suburbs and it does looping within the city where each part of the city are reached by all kinds of public transport—and also the tram within the city loop are free, so it gives even more reasons for people to choose to walk and use public transport instead of travelling by cars.

Figure 1. Train city-loop route (in blue lines) in Melbourne. All tram lines (in green) also go into the CBD before it goes out to different suburbs.

Source: Open street map (edited)

THE TREE STRUCTURE OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM IN MELBOURNE Alexander in his essay titled A City Is Not A Tree introduces two kinds of pattern of thought—tree structure and semi-lattice structure. He explains in a very logical way how these patterns of thought shaped a city—natural and artificial—and how tree structure system does not acknowledge overlap elements and therefore it separates the supposed intertwined aspects of life of a city. However, talking about tree structure as a pattern of thought, it seems to me that the public transport system in Melbourne is built up based on this particular pattern. A tree structure system in this case does not talk about overlap activities but rather a system in which it forms a simple tree (figure 2); it centralized from one point and then spread out towards several other points in which these points are completely separated from each other. The central point in this case will be the city loop, and then it goes out to


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

one set of neighborhood/suburbs and does not have connecting lines between suburbs other than to loop back to the city (figure 3).

Figure 2. Tree-structure of public transport system in Melbourne.

Figure 3. Train and tram lines system in Melbourne. Source: Open street map (edited)

The impact of this system is clearly felt by the farthest part of neighborhood measured from the city, less people will use public transport to these places as they would have to travel back to the city loop and out again to the other set of neighborhoods—which then gave them reasons to opt using cars because of the unnecessary time consumed when they travel using public transport. The farther the place is from the city loop the more cars are being used in said place and it reflected on the character and the lifestyle of the people living in the area, no matter how much potential the place have to become an activity centre in the future. The place that this essay will focused on ticked all of the boxes above—it being far from the city loop with no metro lines going in to and from the CBD as well as neighboring places and therefore the car-oriented situation in the area (figure 4).

Figure 4. Airport West location from city loop. Metro lines (in blue) do not reach the suburb. Source: Open street map (edited)


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

Airport West is located close to Melbourne Airport and it has tram lines that stops at Matthews Ave from CBD. The plan to connect Melbourne Airport and Airport West using public transport can bring significant change to the site. With all the potentials Airport West has for the future urbanism, it is quite a shame how much contrast the pedestrian life this place has compared to the city life in Melbourne CBD. CHAPTER 2 URBAN ISSUES AIRPORT WEST Airport West is one of the few suburbs in Melbourne that is dominated by both industrial and residential area (figure 5). Looking back into the history, a certain major car production was run in this area before it closed down and the characteristic of this place stays the same—mostly about car production and commercial area until today. In spite of this characteristic, Airport West is also bordered by major infrastructure; Tullamarine Freeway, Western Ring Road, and Calder Freeway (figure 6). Elizabeth Macdonald in her article Streets and The Public Realm theoretically explains road types based on several criteria; "The criteria include access control, design speed, design volume, level of service, and highway capacity" (Macdonald 2011, p. 421)

Figure 5. Residential and industrial zone in Airport West.

Figure 6. Three major roads in Airport West. Source: google maps (edited)

Those volumes are adjusted to accommodate car-traffics in certain areas. It is clear that the roads bordering Airport West are the physical barrier between communities —not to mention the volume of car traffic in this area is quite high. In this case, public roads are forced to become a multifunction public space for the community which serves lack of safe pedestrian crossing. Artery roads are designed to reduce congestion from intersection—and even in Airport West, it is not so hard to cross the road in the intersections but the majority of the people in Airport West do not use the shared roads for activities (figure 7). There is a minimum percentage for public space in these roads and the majority of the space is used for car lanes—some minor roads do not even have pedestrian lanes (figure 8).


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

Figure 7. Intersection crossings in Airport West (Tullamarine Freeway). All cars activities, no pedestrian in sight.

Figure 8. Westfield Dr, no pedestrian lane. Source: google street view

Both Gehl and Macdonald in their book and article– Cities For People and Streets And The Public Realm, respectively— agree upon the fact that the bigger the roads the less city life quality is being served to the people. Gehl mainly approaches this issue by observing the life in the city while Macdonald works theoretically through her analysis. Bike and pedestrian lanes around this area are also left abandoned by the people due to massive amount of car usage in the area (figure 8), which proof that even if given the facilities, it gives little to no impact to the pedestrian if the use of car still dominates the place.

Figure 8. Bike and pedestrian lanes in Airport West, no activities. Other than the fact that this place is unreachable through public transport, there are several other factors why cars dominate the area and why little to no pedestrian is seen on the street.


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

WALK-ABILITY ISSUE Jeff Speck in his book titled Walkable City (2012) said, “The General Theory of Walkability explains how, to be favored, a walk has to satisfy four main conditions: it must be useful, safe, comfortable, and interesting.” (Speck 2012, p. 14). None of these criteria match the walking condition in Airport West. Each places—i.e commercial to residential; residential to industrial; industrial to commercial; are separated by big roads and several urban voids, making it hard to move between places through walking even though the distance might still be in walking distance criteria. In terms of safety, there is no physical barrier between pedestrian and car lanes on some roads because of the minimum space it has offered to the pedestrian (figure 9). In addition to this, walking through this area is generally uncomfortable and uninteresting—strengthened its car-oriented character throughout the whole suburbs.

Figure 9. Pedestrian lane condition at Matthews Ave (left) and Hawker St (right). Little to no barrier to car lanes. Source: google street view

URBAN VOIDS Urban voids generally talk about those urban spaces in cities which are either underused or abandoned. In the case of Airport West, there is a noticeable urban void in the shopping centre area where more than 70.000 square metre car park is located on ground (figure 10). The process of space development is also generally affected by the characteristic of urban activities in the area and the amount of the use of car resulting in many spaces built up or eventually used for private vehicles instead of pedestrian (also shown in figure 9). There are multiple disadvantages as a result of this void including a waste of urban space and investment—but most importantly, lack of passive surveillance for pedestrian become a major influence to the absence of pedestrian activity in this area. Imagine this huge area at night, where there are only minimum lights illuminating the place—crime happened in this kind of situation. It is safe to say that huge car park means neglected function, but the more interesting question is what is the potential of activating it? Eran Ben Joseph in his book titled The Design and Culture of Parking explains that the lack of aesthetic function and the environmental problems such as increased heat-island as well as social problems are the main disadvantages of on ground parking lot. He also shares a different alternative to use and integrate parking lot other than parking cars. "Parking lots with or without parked vehicles can be fine space, even great spaces. Lots can be integrated into their surroundings with little or no environmental disruption. They can be social and cultural assets, a stage for open, less controlled behaviors where multiuse and multifunction can be


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

achieved. Lots can be productive places that do environmental work, clean water runoff, generate oxygen, and produce energy." (Joseph 2012) Beside the disadvantages found from the current urban situation in Airport West, there are many ways in which this place can be improved in response to urban renewable plan of Melbourne. On the next chapter, this essay will discuss the possibility of improving the overall situation in Airport West as well as the potential behind it.

Figure 10.1. Urban void on car park Westfield Airport West plan.

Figure 10.2. Westfield Airport West car park view. Source: Google street view and google image

CHAPTER 3 URBAN STRATEGY POTENTIAL AND SOLUTION Despite the current condition in Airport West, there are many potential for urban intensification and urban development found in this particular suburb. The close proximity to Melbourne Airport also plays an important role in this development. In the effort to refine the public transport network throughout north – west suburbs (the northXwest public zone project), there are several new public transport routes—including tram and metro lines (figure 11)— added to the site, meaning that there are going to be new nodes and stations placed in this car-oriented neighborhood. This will certainly change the whole character of the place; it will weaken the automobiles usage characteristic in the area. Adding new public transport routes that connect to significant places around the suburb means that one problem has been solved and this area will no longer be unreachable through public transport, which in turn will reduce the use of car significantly.


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

Figure 11. (top right) current tram and train route; (left) new tram and metro line going through inner west loop and to Melbourne Airport. Source: google my map by Woodcock, I (2019)

However, putting new routes and new stations do not necessarily invite people in to the street to do some optional and social activities—according to Jan Gehl’s theory in Life Between Buildings (2010). Public transport does play an important role but so does the urban fabrication strategy in Airport West as well as the surrounding suburbs in response to this new development. Unlike many places—like Broadmeadows or Sunshine—in the new NorthXWest Public Zone project which creates a new loop to connect several disconnected suburbs in the inner west loop, Airport West is like a blank white canvas. There is no current station or relevant public transport life happening in Airport West other than the 59 tram and some buses. Looking into the big transport hubs potentially happening in Airport West, it opens up many different options of urban renewable strategies to the area. REMODELLING ROADS – ELIZABETH MACDONALD Elizabeth Macdonald in her article Streets and The Public Realm explains ideas of remodeling roads to be more sustainable and pedestrian friendly. First, creating transit priority streets, where roads are mostly designed to accommodate public transport and pedestrian who use public transport can be done to some of the roads north side of Airport West where the shopping centre is currently located. Indeed, it is not possible to completely reconfigure big roads bordering Airport West as it connects to some major places like the western ring road but in terms of weakening the current car-oriented characteristic, some works can be done to the minor roads such as Westfield dr and Moore rd. These roads are located north-west and south respectively, of the Westfield Airport West shopping centre (figure 12). The current use of Westfield Dr road is for cars to access the parking lot in Westfield Airport West (figure 13).


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

Figure 12. Reconfiguring Westfield Dr and Moore Rd.

Figure 13. Access to car park from Westfield Dr. Source: google maps (edited)

Limiting car access to this area in the new strategy works well with the plan to reconfigure car park area, densifying the urban fabrication to create passive surveillance for pedestrian and to accommodate new nodes as a result of future public transport route to this area (figure 14).

Figure 14. Reconfiguring Westfield dr to be more pedestrian friendly and densifying car park area (to the left) to give passive surveillance and remove voids from the urban spaces.

Second, enhancing barrier between vehicles and pedestrian can be done to Moore rd and the majority of the road in Airport West. Road barrier—according to Macdonald— is the pedestrian protection from moving cars in the form of natural strip and trees. Some roads might need to be widened in order to accommodate both natural strips and vehicle lanes—including public transport (figure 15).


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

Figure 15. Reconfiguring Moore rd. Widening the road up to 5m more to accommodate new road barrier, pedestrian and bike lanes.

Using the same method for remodeling the road to support pedestrian life, this can be done to the majority of minor roads in Airport West, and this will certainly give impact to the characteristic in Airport West—refining the condition and intensifying the potential other than just putting new stations in unused spaces. LIFE BETWEEN BUILDINGS – JAN GEHL Life between buildings consists of all spectrum of activities, all joined to form communal spaces in cities and in residential areas which creates a meaningful and attractive community. By enhancing public transport networks in Airport West and reconfiguring roads to give more room for pedestrian activities as well as densifying the urban voids, new physical environment will give reasons for people to do more social and optional activities around the place. Limiting the use of cars in certain area will also increase pedestrian permeability—something that has been proved successfully in some of Melbourne CBD areas. The focus of life between buildings is revolved around outdoor activities and physical environment, putting the strategy concentration to improve these conditions will certainly improve the pedestrian life in Airport West. The focus to rebuild Airport West should be about the urban spaces, fabrication and the roads—after all, the life inside and between buildings almost in every situation are more essential and more relevant than the building itself. This is the kind of physical environment the people need in order to enhance street life not only in CBD area but also in suburban main activity centre area—because they are both equally important in creating a good city life for all of city dwellers.

CONCLUSION To conclude, this visualizing theory essay has helped me to look with new different perspectives other than the obvious at the urban issues and potential development in Airport West. Starting with a question of how pedestrian life is affected not only by what is happening in the human scale in terms of physical environment but also by the tree structure of Melbourne public transport system which affected the overall scheme in Airport West. Many urban development options can be done to restore


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

the street life in Airport West and approaching the strategy by identifying the components in which it makes for pedestrian life is important in terms of planning new urban strategy in this area. Gehl’s observation about city life and the human scale activities as well as Macdonald’s theoretical analysis about streets and the public realm are both work in correlation to each other; the urban spaces are formed as a result of another bigger urban system—the current urban spaces condition in Airport West are formed as a result of the current public transport system in Melbourne (big roads, giant car park). In order to tackle these issues, one need to look into a wider picture, using integrated perspective from several urban theorists can help solve the problems. These new perspectives are all one part of a big component that makes the urban spaces livable to the people. This topic has really changed my perspective of identifying and solving urban issues particularly in Airport West and I find it to be extremely useful for my future preferences.


Jessica Lupita

Swinburne University of Technology |Final Paper – Theories of Buildings and Cities

BIBLIOGRAPHY • • •

• • • • •

Gehl, J 2010, Cities For People, Island Press, Washington. Gehl, J 2011, Life Between Buildings, 6th edn, Island Press, Washington. Macdonald, E 2011, ’Streets and the public realm: growing opportunities/emerging design’, Urban Design: Roots, Influence, and Trends: The Routledge Companion to Urban Design, Routledge, London. Macdonald, E 2007, Section 1: Wasted and Reclaimed Landscapes - Wasted Space/Potential Place: Reconsidering Urban Streets, Places Journal, viewed 1 November 2019, < https://placesjournal.org/assets/legacy/pdfs/wasted-space-potential-place-reconsideringurban-streets.pdf>. Alexander, C 1965, ‘A city is not a tree’, Architectural Forum, vol. 122, no. 1, pp. 58-62. Alexander, C 1965, ‘A city is not a tree. Architectural Forum, vol. 122, no. 2, pp. 58-62. Speck, J 2012, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York. Joseph, EB 2012, Rethinking A Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, The MIT Press, Cambridge. Vernon, C, Review: A City is not a Tree, Christopher Alexander, Nothwestern Public Health Review, viewed 2 November 2019, < https://sites.northwestern.edu/nphr/review-a-city-is-nota-tree-by-christopher-alexander/>. UKEssays. November 2018. Exploring Urban Void in South East Asia World Cultural Heritage City, Georgetown. [online]. Available from: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/architecture/exploring-urban-void-in-south-east-asia-worldcultural-heritage-city-georgetown.php?vref=1 [Accessed 2 November 2019].


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Research Project : Visualising Theory - AIRPORT WEST, MELBOURNE  

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