24 Jul 2018

Our waterways, harbours, rivers and coastlines are the lifeblood of our cities. They have shaped settlement patterns globally for millennia.

Across Australia and internationally, cities continue to release the potential of waterfront lands. Post-industrial docklands are transforming into contemporary cultural, recreational and lifestyles spaces.

Nearly every one of Australia’s capital cities is currently home to a significant waterfront renewal project. These projects are transforming not only the waterfront, but the cities themselves. 

Through these ten insights, we share our ideas on shaping successful, vibrant waterfronts.

1. Think strategically

As the world’s population continues to grow and urbanise, our cities need to accommodate more people in less space. Waterfront sites are not only blessed with abundant amenity, they’re all intrinsically part of a bigger system. The cumulative benefit of the redevelopment of a network of waterfront sites offers significant strategic opportunity for cities. They have the ability to accommodate urban growth, connect city-wide movement networks and become a focus for urban life. 

2. Local relevance

City-making today is all about creating authentic experiences. People everywhere are seeking opportunities to have more meaningful encounters with places and cultures. Many of our waterfront sites have extensive histories that have defined the settlement patterns  and development milestones of our cities. The revival of these sites presents a significant opportunity to unlock the history of our cities, and at the same time, carve new local experiences and stories. 

Howard Smith Wharves, Brisbane. Click to learn more about this project.

3. Variety of experience

Our waterfront environments are incredibly diverse. However, looking nationally, the renewal outcomes we often see are surprisingly homogeneous. More considered responses will deliver public environments that are individually unique, though linked by a secondary element – and all with a specific strategy for engaging with water. 

South Perth Foreshore, Perth. Click to learn more about this project.

4. Water on water

A connection to the water itself is the greatest asset of any waterfront site. To take true advantage of waterfront sites, we need to ensure water remains the centrepiece of the design and the focus of any programming and activity within the space. Blur the lines between land and sea by building in as many opportunities to visually connect, touch and interact as possible. 

5. Make destinations

Our waterways have always been places full of activity, from the focus of industry to an essential mode of transport and now as major recreational destinations and stages for civic events. The activation of these waterfront spaces is a key factor in their success.

West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong. Click to learn more about this project.

6. Design for change

Waterfronts are some of the earth’s most dynamic places. From daily tidal cycles to storm surges and the longterm impacts of climate change, our waterfronts are always changing. Imagine creative solutions and offer incremental investment strategies that future-proof some of our most important amenity and community assets.

Rockhampton Riverfront Precinct, Rockhampton. Click to learn more about this project.

7. Connect to everything

It can be a challenge to create connections inland from the water’s edge. However, boldly making clear linkages to other parts of the city serves to create a ‘super grid’ of connectivity. This can tie employment centres, cultural institutions and transport nodes to the amenity of the waterfront.

8. Conflict works

The beauty and activity at our waterfront spaces attract people for many reasons. Therefore, our waterfronts need to be flexible places that can accommodate both the everyday and the extraordinary. To achieve this flexibility, ensure no one group is catered for, rather weave together multiple interactions. 

‘The Connection’ Rhodes, Sydney. Click to learn more about this project.

9. Ease of access is key

Whilst the ultimate objective should always be to create sustainable places that rely on public and active transport infrastructure, the reality of most Australian cities is that the density of population and infrastructure networks is not sufficiently developed to support renewal without significant car parking, at least in the short term. Ensuring these are carefully designed and located to be sleeved by activity or buried by landscape is essential.

10. High performance places

The space and linkages associated with the water are obviously the key experience of waterfronts. However, they are often unable to reach their full potential as active places for people unless the density of residential development and intensity of commercial uses is sufficient to bring them to life. 

Ensuring best practice design of urban waterfronts is paramount to the success and liveability of our cities. At Urbis, we’ve pooled our collective expertise to share ten ideas on creating vibrant, thriving waterfronts.

Download your copy of ‘Shaping Vibrant Waterfronts‘ by clicking the thumbnail below.