Australia`s Parliament House is about to get ring fenced

Just before the Houses of Parliament broke for the Christmas holiday they approved to increase security (or perimeter security enhancements as its known security jargon) at Parliament House by surrounding the roof and their lawns with 2.6 metre, 1.5 metre and 1.2 metre high fences at various intervals [pdf] which has drawn great ire from Australian architects including Glenn Murcutt and Australian Institute of Architects.

Why is there such outcry over increasing security at the centre of government in Australia? The design for Parliament House which was won by “Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp and imagined Parliament House that symbolically rose out of the landscape and could not be built on top of the hill as this would symbolise government imposed on the people…it was important that [it] be seen as extending an invitation to all citizens. The grand lawns of Parliament House allowed the public to be able to freely access and walk over the Houses of Parliament.” [1]. This grand idea that won the design competition provides an insight into the values of Australia, its cities, communities and people and is the main reason why so many architects and the public are voicing their opposition to the fence, whether in newspapers, blogs or on social media.

Read more at World Landscape Architecture

Shanghai starts promoting Precast Concrete in Construction

Nearly every building, landscape and piece of construction in China uses insitu concrete (on-site poured) concrete. There are many issues with on-site concrete include

Pollution: On site pollution, waste, noise, trucks, on-site mixers, soil compaction, water pollution

Inefficient Usage: Concrete goes off (bad) quickly if not used within 20-30 minutes, transport needs to be fast (causing issues with speeding trucks, pollution, etc), testing is lacking and can cause waste.

Finish: Final finishes can be too rough or inaccurate, requires rendering/screeding to get a good final finish.

Today, I read that Shanghai will start using Precast Concrete (PC) for many of its residential to save on energy, construction pollution and noise, however it will raise costs. I think it’s good to see Shanghai embracing a technique used across the world to construction various buildings including residential, commercial and industrial. The other reason as an landscape architect I am happy to see this occurring is that it will flow on to other industries including landscape and thus allowing designers to create interesting shapes and finishes in the landscape.

The move to Precast Concrete will also be good for Shanghai as it will reduce the number of large concrete trucks in the city and also eliminate many of the concrete plants along the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek that although interesting as an industrial landscape can cause water, soil and noise pollution. Also precast concrete can save time on-site, if the precast is ordered a floor can be built quickly. In Australia, precast is used for housing and office buildings but the biggest benifit is in build factories where the footings can be completed in advance and then the frame and precast can be completed in a few days.

The Shanghai Government will be promoting Precast Concrete throughout the city over the next three years and encouraging construction companies to move to precast systems, I am hoping it the move also occurs in the landscape industry over the next 3 years.

Australian Economy: Factors to watch in 2011

These are observations of  factors I think will change the Australian market in 2011.  Other short-term factors will come into play that could change any or all of these factors. I predict these with great trepidation as I have heard only a fool predicts the future of any economy but it was fun exercise to think about. I am not an economist or financial expert by any stretch of the imagination but I would be interested in hearing your own conclusions via comments or

– Continuing high Australian Dollar against all major currencies

– Housing prices are high and afford-ability is low

– Interest rates will continue to rise and those with fixed mortgages will be going into a flexible rate of 7.5-8.0%

– Private debt will continue to rise as housing prices stay high and people redraw against already high loans to do home improvements

– Universities increased fees although they expect lower overseas enrollments

– Australian Government changed immigration laws for overseas students

– Continued contraction in Tourism as local and international tourism rates drop

– Continued growth in WA & Queensland due to mining; Other states will need to start spending on capital projects to get things moving as the 2008 Federal stimulus has finally dried up.

– Competition in industries are stagnant along with competition as M&A continues the only option for many companies to be able to grow and gain talent – how Singapore Exchange takeover of ASX is key along with how the government deals with increased interest from Chinese companies increasing investing in overseas markets in 2011.

– China is Australia’s largest export market

– 2 speed economy will continue as Mining sector outstrips any other sector and retail & tourism drops off

– Lower than expected retail numbers for Christmas and sales moving retail overseas moving overseas due to price gouging by retailers and high Australian dollar having effects on part-time & full time retail staff.

– Talent will be in short supply as more baby-boomers retire and along with a lack of middle managers to rise up the ranks as many where sacrificed in 2007-’08 to cut companies costs to keep the market & stockholders happy

Frank Gehry’s UTS building – catalyst for modern Sydney Architecture

Frank Gehry’s of new architectural design for the Dr Chau Chak Wing(see above) at the University of Technology in Sydney was recently published on – Gehry unveils his ‘mystery’ $150 million Australian debut. Its been dubbed the Tree-house – Australian’s have a knack for giving nick names to buildings or places such as the Harbour Bridge is know as the Coat hanger.  I can see that the new Gehry building will be interesting addition to the Sydney skyline. Sydney isn’t renowned for its great architecture, obviously there are a few exceptions with the Opera House and a few Harry Siedler buildings – most other buildings including much of the CBD are plain glass monolith’s – I am saying this as a true Melbournian :-p (Sydney vs Melbourne rivalry dates back decades).

I also worry about the plain and mundane architecture that has been presented for the new developments at Barangar0o; They all seem too similar and don’t offer much identity for the place – I feel that the buildings could be anywhere in the world. However, I hope that Gehry’s building it will be implemented with minor alterations to the visions say what you will about his designs but they do have a certain power and create an energy within the space they occupy.  I am hoping the Gehry’s UTS building will have the same catalytic effect on Sydney’s architecture that the RMIT’s buildings of the 1990’s had on Melbourne’s skyline and architecture. The two key buildings where Building 8 by Edmond & Corrigan and Storey Hall by Ashton Raggatt McDougall.

MORE INFORMATION: UTS has setup a project website with the specification, costs and all consultants involved in the project.

*UPDATE* – I have been informed by UTS that DARYL JACKSON ROBIN DYKE is the landscape architect as well as the executive architect for the project.

Australia’s National Broadband Network: White Elephant in the making

Debated started back in 2002 on National Broadband Network (NBN) for Australia and gained more traction during the 2007 election. Last year, the Australian government announced it was going to spend $43 billion on implementing the NBN – a fibre optic network with a speed of 100 Mpbs to 93% of population (in other worlds major cities and coastline) with the remaining areas to be serviced by a satellite network.  Recently the government announced the speed of the NBN would be 1 gigabyte.

So why is this network a white elephant?
Mobile Devices

Mobile devices are the fastest growing market and are changing the way we work, consume and produce data & information whether at work, home or play. For this reason alone the NBN should have been mobile technology based – people are changing the way they work and consume data and its not sitting at desk with a 17-24″ screen – its usually on a 3-14″ screen in their client’s office or boardroom or lounge room or shopping mall or farm tractor.  Another reason it should have been Mobile is the location of the data we now access is often through the cloud (gmail, youtube, facebook, games) and therefore people don’t need to be anchored to their desk or workplace to be productive. The cloud saves business money on purchasing network infrastructure, hardware and software. I’ll speak more about the cloud and mobile market trends in future posts.

The NBN is a fixed network that is going to provide huge amount of bandwidth to where people in reality don’t really need it. People use the internet for facebook, watching videos and reading the newspaper/news sites and the odd email – all of which do not require the enormous bandwidth that the NBN will supply. I can understand installing the NBN in Central Business/Activity Districts, Universities or other research facilities but spending $43 billion to install a fixed network to residences seems a large waste of taxpayers money.  Anyone who requires the bandwidth that the NBN will supply will most likely already have it – universities, banks, architects, designers, video production, etc. Overall, the concept of the NBN is too broader a scope and supplies people who really don’t need the bandwidth – I am I saying they don’t deserve the access – no, I am saying if they require it they can pay for it.

$43 billion is a lot of money to spend on one infrastructure project, there are too many other infrastructures that require the money including health and public transport – to areas in dire need of money.

Plain and simply the NBN should have been mobile by the time it is fully implemented be as relevant as a phone box and be one of the the biggest mis-allocation of funds by an Australian government.

IMAGE from Flickr Copyright All rights reserved by sailblue