Local urban design and architecture studio City Collective sets itself apart from other firms with a multi-disciplinary design approach that looks past the edge of the job site.
“We think that the very best design outcomes come about when you think beyond the site,” says City Collective’s director David Cooke. “You think broad, you think of the community relating to it and the people. We always ask that question on any project. Who? Who are the people that will use the site, and who are the people that should be here?”
Cooke’s Collective is a unique outfit in Adelaide’s design landscape. As he tells The Adelaide Review, the firm works from a position of holistic, urban design. Its small but multi-disciplinary team, operating between Adelaide and Melbourne, covers skillsets of urban planning, architecture, and interior design, allowing them to approach projects from a range of design perspectives.
“Urban design really is all those elements of all the design industries,” he says. “It’s a piece of architecture, planning, landscape architecture, social planning and economics, and bringing that together for integrated outcomes.”
Where many Australian architecture and design firms operate on a basis of working within a specified site, Cooke says that City Collective makes sure to take into account a site’s surrounds, the overarching community needs and governmental goals for the areas. This helps to build a ‘design narrative’ even before a plan is drawn up, which Cooke says it means that “we’ll be drawing it once, instead of multiple times”.
“I remember in the early days of City Collective, we would have a lot of conversations with clients or potential clients who would challenge us and say, ‘This is all great, but you’re still going to do the architecture aren’t you?’” Cooke says. “So, we’d talk about our process, how we think big, analyse what communities want, and what councils and government are trying to achieve and bring that in through a design narrative to focus on the outcome. The outcome might be a piece of architecture or larger-scale master plan or a planning strategy.”
One example of this is City Collective’s current work on the ex-University of Adelaide campus in Thebarton, itself a tricky site that has had many ideas cast onto it over the years, but little in the way of execution.
“Many ideas and thoughts have been put forward around that [the Thebarton campus], and they’ve struggled to get the implementation happening. Our approach was to do some site analysis and international bench-marking. We analysed what the council and state government were hoping to achieve and responded with a master-plan that focussed on urban repair.
“Instead of coming in and saying we had a brand new master plan and pushing all these people out, we wanted to leverage off of them, include them and stitch that site back into the community and the frontage of the Torrens.”
Another such example is an apartment project in Prospect where City Collective is working with Renewal SA. Cooke says that on this project the firm asked, “How can this site and the residents within this site link to other parts of this community?”
“The residents in this project are somewhat older, so they’ll be spending more time on that site, so when they move out of the site, it’s about making it easier to connect with existing infrastructure, to cross the road, access shops,” he says. “It’s small things, like the positioning of the door and the existing cross-over point on Churchill Road, just lining that up. It’s simple, but for the overall quality of life for a person who might be 75-plus years old, that becomes a really easy opportunity to be there and be a part of the community.”
These simple solutions sound obvious but a site’s context and its integration aren’t always taken into account in modern Australian architecture. Cooke’s approach here comes from his experience working overseas, particularly in the US and San Francisco, where he attained a Master of Urban Design at UC Berkeley.
“Adelaide and Australia can really learn from countries like the United States, particularly in housing affordability and transit integration,” he says. “They’re probably two to three years in front of the curve; just in terms of the time they’ve been thinking about how to solve the issues. They’ve made a lot of mistakes, and while I was there [in San Francisco] I was part of trying to rectify those mistakes. I’ve brought what I learned back here, and that type of thinking is at the essence of what City Collective is about.”
Header image: Thebarton Precinct. Image courtesy City Collective