Radburn suburbs

I’ve been thinking about the Radburn design ideas recently. In Radburn suburbia the ‘fronts’ of all houses face onto public gardens, with paths that lead to village centres; cars are on the other side, or ‘rear’, in cul-de-sacs. It is intended to separate the cars, and their ‘dangers’ from the communal outdoor living and play spaces. The urban design takes its name from the suburb in New Jersey USA where this radical rethinking of suburbia first took place.

I’m currently working on a project in Cartwright, Sydney’s only large Radburn suburb, and it revived my interest. I once lived in Curtin, a Radburn suburb in Canberra (see the plan above) and I was in walking distance to work to the Sirius building I described last week. Charnwood was another Canberra suburb of Radburn planning. As was Crestwood in Perth.

Here’s some images of the fronts of the houses facing onto the public gardens, although many of these houses, and the urban areas, are being demolished or re-built as conventional subdivisions.

I’ve started on some research for a Tone on Tuesday. For a start, why does every Australian Radburn suburb start with C? More seriously I want to read a research report by Henry Clarke from 1988 at the University of Newcastle. It looks like it could answer all my questions, and more. But I can’t seem to source it. Any help would be gratefully received, for that or any other information. Otherwise it will all be personal reminiscences like that above.

Athletes’ village housing

The Commonwealth Games in Victoria has been cancelled in favour of building more housing. Slight irony there for those of us who entered the Athletes’ Village competition for Sydney 2000. It was awarded to five entrants who were asked to collaborate on a single innovative vision which they did: Bruce James and Partners, Phillip Thalis and Peter John Cantrill, Mazhar Berke and Gungor Ozme, John Hockings, Rod Simpson and Andrea Wilson. Above is the final scheme plan, and below is a delightful model made of one part, now held in the (soon to be gutted) Powerhouse Museum.

It was going to be a new vision of suburbia, the very thing a CommGames could deliver. But then, in true Sydney style, market jitters took over, a tender was held to guarantee delivery better than a group of young upstart architects, and the corporates rode into town. Mirvac and Lend Lease were awarded the project, with Philip Cox Richardson Taylor and Peddle Thorp. They delivered. A very ordinary suburb. With none of the elan of the winning scheme. A process to be repeated under Paul Keating’s heavy hand at Barangaroo.

Bruce Petty

Bruce Petty died aged 93 a couple of months ago. One of our finest satirists and cartoonists. The best for many architects and urbanists for his keen eye on the conservatism of Australian Cities. Love the idea of “We strive for yesterday” in Melbourne above. And here is his take on Sydney.

In 1974 or 5 he was asked to run a workshop at the Tin Sheds at the University of Sydney. Along with dozens of hairy hippies I watched fascinated as he created a drawing of one of his immense ‘machines’ that spat out the never-ending supply of university graduates to foul the community. We laughed and applauded, and the Union had the original blown up to full wall size where it sat in the lower café for 35 years until some idiot painted over it. No trace of the wall, or original, remains.

Bookends: Two by Bruce

Here’s two books of Petty’s broad sweep of Australian values, the first from 1967, the second from 1976. It took until 2006 for BP to be awarded a Walkley. Seems a bit slow for such a quick mind.

Signs Off: Morrison + Palmer

Speaking of the 70s, there was once an organisation called BUGA-UP: Billboard Utilising Graffiti Against Unhealthy Promotions. They did as it says on the tin: raged against ads for smoking, alcohol and the like. I recently reminisced with one of the leading protagonists, Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, NSW Democrat MLC, gratified to see the graffiti tradition continue with Clive Palmer’s rotten billboards. Here we can say goodbye, and good riddance, to Scott Morrison as well. And ex-PM, don’t let the door hit you on the backside on your way out.

Reference: A&D Another Thing week 29/2023

Tone Wheeler is an architect / the views expressed are his.

Long columns are Tone on Tuesday, short shots every Friday in A&D Another Thing.

You can contact TW at [email protected]