Innovative urban planning designs by a group of UNSW Built Environment Students are on display at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. 

The project, titled Looking for Love on the Sydenham to Bankstown Line features speculative proposals and photographic material as part of a direct response to the NSW Department of Planning’s draft proposal for an urban renewal corridor in Sydney’s inner west.

The UNSW students involved in the project ­­­‑ James Masman, Lisa Ho, James Paviour, Li Mengying, Clara Ho, Siyuan Ni, and Maria Luisa Vittorelli – were responding to the planned creation of more than 35,000 new dwellings along the inner west rail corridor.

The students considered models and planning frameworks that supported design quality, embraced difference and created connections and dialogue between people residing in the 11 inner west community centres identified in the rail corridor.

The Venice exhibition will provide an opportunity for the students to promote new urban planning approaches to a broad audience, says Jon Jacka, who runs the housing stream in the UNSW Master of Architecture graduate studio.

Documents and photographic material featuring in the 'Looking for Love on the Sydenham to Bankstown Line' installation at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Image: UNSW

“The student projects grapple with issues relating to affordability, diversity, community, social interaction and environmental sustainability,” he says. 

“They are responses to the imminent urban transformation and provide alternatives to the ways in which housing and urban development is being rolled out.”

This ‘bottom up’ approach, which involved exploring the unique cultural and socio-economic diversity of each suburb while harnessing local knowledge, contrasts with the ‘top down’ one usually associated with private developers whose plans are dictated by profit rather than preserving community vibrancy.

The students also tackled the problem of increasingly unaffordable housing available to Sydneysiders in their submission. This is in stark contrast to the government’s draft proposal.

“There is no affordable housing proposed through the [Department of Planning’s] draft plans,” says Jacka.

“There are no additional green areas. Apartment design and procurement is aimed at investors rather than future residents.”

To address affordability, students looked at alternative housing models overseas for inspiration, such as ‘baugruppen’ (where people come together to develop their own high-density homes), co-housing, housing co-operatives and community land trusts.

“Denmark, France, Germany and others have favourable conditions for renters,” says Jacka.
“Sydney has a lot to gain from studying such examples. The student projects on exhibition provide a glimpse on how such approaches might be realised in our local context.”

Following the Biennale in Venice, the students’ work is expected to be on display in the Sydney communities it represents.