City Collective designs in context
By John Dexter
The Adelaide Review
7 May 2018
Photo courtesy City Collective
Image: City Collective’s current design rendering for the University of Adelaide campus in Thebarton.
College of Environmental Design alumnus David Cooke (M.U.D. ‘15) was recently featured in the Adelaide Review for the latest work coming out of his urban design and architecture studio, City Collective. Cooke’s firm sets itself apart from others 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,” said 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 reveals that the firm works from a position of holistic, urban design. Although composed of a small, multidisciplinary team, City Collective operates between Adelaide and Melbourne and covers a broad range of skills including urban planning, architecture, and interior design. The diverse skill set allows the firm to view projects with 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.”
City Collective does not keep specific sites in isolation. The firm works resiliently to take into account a site’s surroundings, the overarching needs of the community, and the governmental goals for the area. Cooke says this information helps to build a “design narrative” that can be drafted even before an actual plan is drawn.
“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 said. “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 strategy can be seen in City Collective’s current work for the University of Adelaide campus in Thebarton. The site proved to be complicated as it had many ideas cast onto it in past years, but with 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 benchmarking. 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 example can be seen in an apartment project in which City Collective is collaborating with Renewal SA. Cooke states that this project made the firm ask themselves: “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,” Cooke said. “It’s small things, like the positioning of the door and the existing crossover 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.”
In modern Australian architecture, a site’s context and integration are not always taken into account. Cooke attributes his approach to his educational experience overseas, particularly 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.”