Imagining Other Cities: Super Sydney

Anuradha Chatterjee, Sydney Correspondent

Super Sydney, a project launched by Tim Williams and Andrew Burns, examines metropolitan challenges for the city by collating and interpreting the visions and aspirations of the community by conducting video interviews of about twelve interviewees from each of the forty one local councils in Sydney. The organizers note: ‘Through the democratization of Sydney’s voice, we will build a Metropolitan consciousness’. The findings and collated video interviews will be presented at the Sydney Architecture Festival in October. The process of hearing, understanding, and re-telling hundreds of individual narratives will build metropolitan consciousness and relevance as well as reveal the wealth of knowledge that is contained in the imagination of the citizens at large. A few things than can be said about the events and ideas surrounding this project are as follows:

Super Sydney, Tim Williams 2012

The first point is the variety and the number of people who are involved in the project. Besides the working group, which includes Sydney architects Tim Williams, Andrew Burns and Adam Russell, as well as Eva Rodriguez-Riestra, Gillian Redman-Lloyd from the Australian Institute of Architects and Penny Craswell, Editor of Artichoke magazine, there are volunteer animators (architects and designers from all over Sydney) who are conducting these video interviews, not to mention the Council members. In addition, the animators are being assisted by about forty architecture students from the Masters studio at the University of Sydney (Coordinator: Lee Stickells; Tutors: Anuradha Chatterjee, Tom Rivard, and Tim Williams). In other words, Super Sydney is firstly (and lastly) a collaborative and collective undertaking.

The second point is the speculative dimension to this project. Historically, studio projects (in addition to schemes for design competition and other unbuilt projects), have been the experimental ground for imagining urban utopias. University of Sydney architecture students have engaged in detail with ten councils to discern specific opportunities and challenges for housing, working, cultural experience, sustainability and transport. Students are then expected to synthesize these directions with the findings from the video interviews to present concept proposals for urban initiatives. The emerging suite of projects are as exciting as they are varied, and they include community markets, bridges and crossings, urban farms, new transport networks, virtual communities, affordable housing, programming parks for inclusive use, foreshore revitalizations, temporal and pop up urbanism, and so on.

Screenshot from Ted Talk Ellen Dunham Jones

The third point is that the focus on the ‘suburban’ domains as opposed to the City and Inner City is long overdue, refreshing, and well timed. Not only is Super Sydney informed by the recent success of The Future of Penrith, Penrith of the Future and the union of Councils in Paris called Paris Métropole (both utilizing the involvement of Tim Williams), but it is also coincident with trends in the US. Ellen Dunham Jones’s TED talk and her book Retrofitting Suburbia advocates densifying as well as adapting to new uses those areas which are severely underperforming. Dunham Jones discusses the need to redirect lot more of our growth into existing communities, build up and re-inhabitation of underused parking lots, and adaptation of dead malls as universities, nursing homes and so on. International Making Cities Livable Conference has just announced a similar premise with invitations to exhibit: ‘Successful Designs for Reshaping Suburbia’.

In Sydney, not only there is the real need to think along these lines (now that we have somewhat come to terms with the full extent of urban sprawl and lifeless suburban landscapes that promise no optimism or opportunity for public life), but there is a real opportunity. Each council area is marked by complex history, topography, cultural mix, geographical boundaries, and proximities, revealing issues and concerns that demand urban intervention, repair, or augmentation. It is this innate, endemic, and located opportunities for urbanism that Super Sydney aims to tease out. The lasting influence of Super Sydney, I suspect, will also be in providing a revised context for judging merit of architectural merit – as the sophisticated and thoughtful articulation of broader urban aims, and not mere formal and technological sophistry, or banal programmatic delivery.

Video: Super Sydney on Vimeo

Sources:
www.mca.com
www.twarch.com
www.supersydney.org
www.livablecities.org

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