Card Practice is an architectural & urban design practice from Melbourne, Australia.
Registered Architects in Victoria (ARBV 600280)
Nominated Architect in New South Wales, James Connor (NSWARB 12246)
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of country throughout Australia and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.
CARD PTY LTD
Learning From Informality
‘Patterns of Footscray’ is an ongoing research and design project. It is an ethnographic
and visual exploration of the spaces, economies and cultures that constitute the urban environment of Footscray.
The research project
began in July of 2016, with the intense mapping of Footscray’s urbanism- applying an observational and analytical approach as a method of
understanding the different urban patterns of the suburb. A large portion of the project has been spent drawing and understanding the practice of
the ‘everyday’. Through applying this methodology, urban elements which often appear invisible to the walker-by are made apparent. It became clear that
the suburb’s architecture is a collection of hybrid typologies that are constantly being morphed and appropriated to suit evolving functions and uses. Bus shelters also act as temporary market stands, ethnic restauraunts co-exist as civic centres for different local communities, and sidewalks provide opportunities for informal economies to sprout spontaneously.
Underneath the perceived boundaries and divisions of Melbourne’s suburbs exists a fluid and constantly evolving network of multicultural communities. Arguably, these overlooked populations have played a pivotal role in the development of the social and cultural fabric of Melbourne; helping to define now sought-after suburbs like Carlton, Brunswick and Collingwood. The suburb of Footscray, located five kilometres west of the city of Melbourne, is a major point of confluence for some of Melbourne’s largest multicultural communities. From its infamous notoriety as a haven for drug users, to its current status as an entry point for immigrants, the urban environment of Footscray has successfully adapted to accommodate to the needs of a constantly developing city. It has achieved this by enacting an alternative model of urban development: whereby different waves of immigrant communities have been able to alter and adapt the urban environment—to suit their own particular practices and identities. The result is an urban fabric that is wholly unique: a complex hybrid of contrasting cultural practices, which overlap and intertwine with one another.
The suburb’s architecture is a collection of hybrid typologies that are continually morphed and appropriated to suit evolving functions and uses. Bus shelters double as temporary market stands; ethnic restaurants co-exist as civic centres for different local communities; and sidewalks provide opportunities for informal economies to sprout spontaneously. There is no singular idea or definition that explains the ephemeral identity of the suburb, but rather it exists as a collection of overlapping patterns. Footscray is governed by its own unique pattern language.
Pure architectural form does not exist in Footscray. The streetscape and built fabric is always experienced and understood as a multi-layered combination of elements, and not as a singular entity. The context reads as a complex amalgam of heritage; signage; cultural re-enactments; appropriations; and human interactions. The buildings seem to fade into the background, and what emerges is a complex layering of fine-grain elements: signs; decorations; furniture; cables; etc. These ephemeral elements add to the vitality and intensity of Footscray’s street life. Shops often extend their commercial activities out into the public realm, using the footpaths as extensions to their stores. Throughout the ‘residential’ areas of Footscray exist a number of dwellings that have been converted into commercial outlets. What are seemingly single-use residential dwellings—in maps and planning overlays—often contain mixed use commercial activities. It is not until one looks at the buildings at a finer scale that this level of appropriation and adaptation is made clear. The ‘shop-houses’ are commonly found in the surrounding residential neighbourhood, offering services such as hair salons; dentists; and massage and acupuncture clinics. These hybrid typologies highlight unique aspects of scale form and use throughout Footscray: demonstrating the potential of mixed-use zoning; and highlighting the flaws in separating uses through regulatory systems and planning overlays. The ‘shop-house’ typology appears to have emerged informally: a condition of living and working in the same place; often occurring out of financial and cultural necessity.
What is commonly seen throughout Footscray is the innovative appropriation of available urban infrastructure, and the complex negotiation of public and private space. Everyday grocery stores and retail outlets set up as platforms and stalls—often made of crates and boxes—in which fruit and vegetables are displayed in a market style manner.
Acts of appropriation like this exist throughout Footscray’s public realm. They not only aim to satisfy the immediate needs of particular people/groups; but are also representative of a failure in the current system to satisfy particular economic, social and cultural conditions. This fine-grain urbanism not only adds to the intensity and liveliness of the streetscape; but also represents how informality is used as a tool for individuals to engage and shape their own environments. Architecturally speaking, the buildings themselves merely act as shell’s for individuals and groups to appropriate. The awnings, although not of particular architectural merit, create arcade-like enclosures which have a profound effect on the experiential qualities of the street. Fine-grain signage and ephemera in both Vietnamese and English languages decorate the shop windows.
Alongside its role to mitigate socio-economic inequity, the informal economy of Footscray is integral to its vitality as a suburb. Informal traders, selling culturally specific goods, have established a vibrant and flourishing informal economy: whereby cultural practices have been given a platform for re-enactment. Spatial and socio-economic situations are manifest in the way good are sold on the streets. Cheaper goods are often displayed informally, outside shops and along particular streets with high foot traffic. Chinese and Vietnamese traders can be seen catering for the large South-East Asian population, and have successfully transformed Leeds Street and Hopkins Street into market-style commercial precincts. A number of the informal street traders own shops within the commercial precinct but choose to sell their goods on the street: capitalising on pedestrian flows during certain times of the day.
Unfortunately, the uninhibited and informal urban characteristics that make up Footscray’s distinctive identity are currently being diminished. With forceful development of multi-storey apartments of up to 25 storeys, Footscray appears to be following an inevitable narrative of calculated gentrification and consequential transition. The unique urban fabric is undergoing significant changes as Melbourne’s middle class populations begin to expand outwards. Over-scaled and insensitive developer-driven projects have encouraged and elevated the process of gentrification. Will Footscray be able to adapt to such changing urban conditions? Will it retain its title as Melbourne’s vibrant multicultural melting pot?
Type: Research Project
Location: Footscray, Victoria
Published: AILA Conference Presentation