Design & Style


Finding A New Normal.

26 April 2021

How leading Australian architects teamed up to imagine an entirely self-sufficient city and created a blueprint for the future.

Design & Style


Finding A New Normal.

26 April 2021

How leading Australian architects teamed up to imagine an entirely self-sufficient city and created a blueprint for the future.

Solar pavilion by John Wardle Architects presented in A New Normal during Melbourne Design Week 2021.

Solar pavilion by John Wardle Architects with artwork by Ash Keating presented in A New Normal during Melbourne Design Week 2021. Image: Eugene Hyland.

‘A new normal’ has become a common phrase in recent times, but Ross Harding says COVID-19 “hijacked” the name for his ground-breaking exhibition that imagines Melbourne as an entirely self-sufficient city by 2030.

“I first did a TEDx talk about A New Normal in Hamburg in 2018,” says the principal of Finding Infinity, a consultancy dedicated to self-sufficient energy, water and waste strategies based in Melbourne.

He then spent the next two years researching a report detailing a sustainable future for the city. “The project got exciting when we invited 15 of Melbourne’s best architects over to my living room for dinner and asked them to help us out by integrating the physical infrastructure that makes the city work, with the cultural infrastructure that allows us to thrive.”

Design powerhouses including Fender Katsalidis and Six Degrees responded to the brief with a “show don’t tell” approach.

The result was 15 installations that offer real-world solutions to big challenges of energy, sustainability and water management. These installations were presented as A New Normal, an interactive exhibition on the roof of a repurposed city office building during Melbourne Design Week and won the 2021 Melbourne Design Week Award presented by Mercedes-Benz.

“If you jam (these issues) down people’s throats, they don’t really like it, whereas our approach is more empathetic,” says Harding. “We don’t really need to talk about why we’re doing this, or what we’re doing – they are relatively boring topics ­– when it becomes interesting is how?”

Render of installation from WOWOWA Architecture and Six Degrees presented during Melbourne Design Week 2021.

Organic Waste to Energy presented by WOWOWA Architecture and Six Degrees in A New Normal during Melbourne Design Week 2021. Image: Supplied.

The contributors drew on technologies already in use in other parts of the world, while adding a local design spin. Architecture and interiors firm WOWOWA proposed a waste-to-energy plant used to heat swimming pools, saunas and spas; Openwork suggested a ‘nightclub’ serving treated sewage water; and John Wardle Architects designed pavilions fitted with solar panels to be rolled out on rooftops around the city.

International studio Hassell presented a concept to turn a multilevel carpark on Little Collins Street into a home for electric vehicles that could power the city. A joint project between Grimshaw and Greenshoot Consulting and Greenaway Architects visualised a vehicle ‘pit stop’ that converts existing cars to electric, then recycles the spare or unused parts.

Installation by Grimshaw X Greenshot X Greenaway presented in A New Normal during Melbourne Design Week 2021.

A joint project between Grimshaw and Greenshoot architects and Greenaway Consulting visualised a vehicle ‘pit stop’ that converts existing cars to electric, then recycles the spare or unused parts. Image: Kristoffer Paulsen.

“In our installation we collaborated with a company called Jaunt and livestreamed the process of electrification,” says director Jefa Greenaway. “The outlay of an electric vehicle can be expensive, and we have existing vehicles and we don’t want to trash them. So how can we retain the identity of a vehicle which you might love, but position it in such a way that it becomes more considered to repurpose it?”

Less than one per cent of vehicles sold in Australia last year were electric, but in Norway it was an impressive 54 per cent. “[Australia has] a fair bit of catching up to do,” says Greenaway. “Across Europe there are many countries ­– Germany, Scandinavia – starting to mandate that combustion engines will not be sold in the next decade … Australia is not yet at that level, so this is a transition point, knowing that in time all vehicles will become electric.”

Greenaway says sustainability has often been an afterthought in the design realm or added on at the last minute to tick a box. “We’re taking a holistic approach where sustainability is just a given,” he explains. “Of course, we need to look after the planet and use the skills and capacities we have as practitioners to start to change the conversation and look at how we can shift the dial … we’re not reinventing the wheel; we’re leveraging existing technologies that have been demonstrated globally.”

The key objective for A New Normal is to enact tangible change, not simply present hypotheticals. “Humans are naturally against change … but we’re rebranding the way people look at these things and creating a great experience out of it,” says Harding. “Let’s allow culture to drive this thing, rather than trying to change culture.”

By the end of the year, Finding Infinity is seeking $50 million in funding to build all 15 of the pilot projects and unlock a $100 billion strategy. “We’re saying: let’s work with the private sector to deliver these pilot projects, ensure that the general public love them by designing them culturally, and use them as opportunities to de-risk the transition for the public sector,” says Harding. “If you talk about these kinds of projects, no one cares, but if you show them in an immersive manner, support grows quickly.”

In the wake of the award-winning exhibition, there’s been interest from several stakeholders interested in turning the prototypes into projects. “We’re optimistic that there’s a change in mood,” says Greenaway. “The impact of climate change and biodiversity loss show there is a new impetus towards meaningful change … the time is now; we can’t actually wait.”

Visit www.normalise.it for more information on A New Normal.

By Michael Harry