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23 July 2021

Meet Clare McAllister, our newest urban design expert

Clare is a multi-award winning, industry-leading residential architect with over thirty years of experience in architectural practice and urban design.
Clare recently joined Ratio, where she extends her design review advice,  pragmatic understanding of commercial development and expert evidence to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Join us as we ask Clare about how she’s made the move to urban design and whether we need active frontage controls everywhere.

Welcome to Ratio Clare. Thanks for letting me ambush you on your very first day in the office. Let’s start off with the big question: what does urban design mean to you?

Urban design is about engaging with the city at all scales, from the macro to the micro. While architecture offers opportunities to contribute to the design of the individual pieces of the urban jigsaw, urban design provides an opportunity to engage with the broader picture. For me, a key driver behind my interest in urban design is my belief that all insertions into the urban fabric should be sites of civic generosity i.e. not just exploiting the opportunities of their site but also giving something back to their urban context.

Why have you made the change to come to urban design?

In essence, I’ve been involved in urban design my entire career; a lot of my work in architecture was multi-unit residential buildings and how they fit into the existing urban fabric. Architecture and urban design are very closely linked; many architects actually call themselves urban designers, even without formal qualification. I’ve now completed my postgraduate urban design research degree over the past four years.

I’ve heard great things about your research into street activation. Tell me more.

My fascination with the city at multiple scales, especially at ‘eye level’, initiated a move from ‘architect-in-practice’ to ‘architect-in-research’, through a post-graduate urban-design research degree at Melbourne University. My focus was an investigation of active-frontage controls that promote façade transparency and retail uses at street-level. In many cases these controls have become the ‘default’ strategy employed to activate frontages and support street-level vitality, and - by extension – public safety. The questions arise: do we need ‘active everywhere’, and how relevant are controls that privilege retail uses – especially when bricks-and-mortar retail is in decline.

My research examined the effectiveness of these ‘active’ frontage controls through a lens of affordance theory. The findings from my case study research, in the Forrest Hill precinct in South Yarra, show that while active frontages are one valuable strategy for street-level interfaces, not all frontages need to be so ‘activated’, and that pockets of ‘considered’ blankness can also contribute to street-life vitality, if part of a mix. I also analysed global exemplars of non-standard frontage design to identify alternative urban design strategies and tactics for street-level interfaces.

Over the course of your career, what have you seen as the biggest change?

In some ways, residential design and the way we live hasn’t changed a lot; we still need the basics of shelter and outdoor space. But Melbourne has certainly changed significantly, and we’ve seen major changes in terms of increased densification in the inner-city areas.  Furthermore, the production of architecture has changed enormously with technology such as 3D design and documentation.

What’s the best part of your job?

I love working with clients and helping them to think of new opportunities and ways to overcome issues. I love that urban design also offers opportunities for true collaboration, not only with the various professions who contribute to the design of the city but also with the people who experience the public urban realm.

Tell us something we don’t know about you

I share my time between Melbourne and Venus Bay, South Gippsland.

 

Author: Clare McAllister,  Urban Designer

clare web landscape bw