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Future Thinking (in) Design

As an end to the COVID-19 lockdown beckons, leading design thinkers have started asking questions about what our homes, offices, cities and universities might look like in the post-COVID-19 world.

While we currently have more questions than answers, thinking strategically about how we design the spaces we work, live and gather in has never been so critical. What kinds of exploratory thinking will shape exemplary design outcomes? 

What is certain is that COVID-19 will impact the way we think about cities and towns. Will we continue to work from home? Will virtual platforms remain the preferred option for meetings and consultations? We know parents are counting the days until schools reopen. How will these profound changes impact how buildings are designed?

We will need to think strategically (and collectively) to find intelligent responses to these new circumstances. How will we distil the needs of users to develop robust briefs and make spaces for healthy and happy lives? These will form critical steps. Exemplary outcomes will depend increasingly on deep conversations and collaboration in the earliest stages of the design process.

While many of these conversations might be sector specific, others blur boundaries. In education, for example, how might the role of the campus change into the future? How can a spatial brief be shaped to reflect a certain pedagogical approach? Can other sectors play a role in shaping a university’s future vision? Our current work for the University of Tasmania recasts the campus as a community asset, a place where business, industry, community and the University can connect and collaborate. Learning is made accessible to the cleverest, but also the profoundly disadvantaged. 

When we consider the office of the near future, how might workplaces be reconfigured if people decide to work from home more often? Two things we have learnt: we can all work more flexibly by connecting virtually, and the physical office still provides an essential place to connect. How we each find a balance between flexibility and collegiality in the future will be important. As both workplace and home overlap even further, what does this mean spatially for next generation office buildings?

We have been thinking about these questions and more.

So how does a strategy-led design process work? In many ways. A survey of leading research and best-practice examples in relevant fields. Understanding how learnings from one sector might apply to another. A site selection study to assist in identifying organisational priorities. A yield study that incorporates benefits to the public realm – a certain measure of future development. Rather than a traditional masterplan, an urban design framework that provides a flexible and responsive approach to development. The process is exploratory. It draws on diverse contributions and seeks to find a solution rather than impose one.

A strategy-led design process was pivotal to the realisation of Wardle’s Ian Potter Southbank Centre. Underpinned by extensive engagement with University of Melbourne staff and teachers, multiple government bodies and arts community stakeholders, the Conservatorium’s potential was gradually unlocked. Intelligent ways to integrate the building into Melbourne’s lively arts spine, and the VCA Southbank campus, were examined and implemented. These far-sighted and strategic conversations led to a design outcome that will be home to many generations of the city’s musicians as they learn their craft.

Our cities and buildings inevitably reflect the times, as they will this moment. As we emerge from COVID-19, we look forward to new and exciting collaborations that will shape how we design for the future.

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