Premier Ballieu, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to be able to join you here in the National Gallery to discuss the issue of housing and sustainability. I am particularly pleased that the Office of the Victorian Government Architect has been working closely with my own Foundation for Building Community, to bring together the best of Australian practice with the Foundation's work around the world. As in all the best partnerships, the idea is simply to pool experience, share best practice and, crucially, learn together.
I have to say that there could hardly be a better place to hold a seminar focussed on a more liveable and sustainable future then here in Melbourne - a city and region that routinely tops the lists of the world's most liveable places. In fact it was only this August that Melbourne came out on top - again!
Melbourne is renowned for both its historic and contemporary architecture. And, if I may say so, you have done a tremendous job in preserving the past and creating well-loved and well-used urban spaces in the present day. For example, unlike most cities around the world, Melbourne kept its tram system and improved it, and is now recognized as a global leader. And you have always understood that the spaces between buildings - of whatever style - are more important than the buildings themselves. It is the way that buildings stand together to form a square, or frame a boulevard, that activates their potential to unlock both social and financial capital.
Indeed, I would argue that it is precisely because your leaders and planners - people like Premier Bailleu and Victorian Government Architect Geoffey London - recognize that investing in quality urbanism builds community capital that Melbourne has found itself among the world's most desirable cities. In making cities liveable, architecture has an important role to play but it is still more important to take a holistic approach to planning. The approach that my Foundation for Building Community is adopting through the idea of Community Capital (which looks towards enhancing and adding value to the social, environmental and financial aspect of any development) is again crucial because it actually starts to look at the natural ecosystem and the human environment as one integrated system from the very start.
It is rather extraordinary to think that it was over twenty-five years ago I first started on what turned out to be a somewhat lonely road towards establishing my Foundation so that we could tackle the lost art of community-building. I believed then, as I do now, that the nature of the built environment significantly determines our quality of life. I have long been concerned about an under-appreciation of the effect that the way we plan and build our towns and cities has on people's physical and mental well-being. My Foundation was established to foster that crucial dimension of spirit and human feeling in our thinking, designing and practice that had been so lacking in post-war development and which had led to the building of soulless ghettoes. I therefore wanted to create an organization both to champion and to show what it means to build harmoniously and in an environmentally friendly manner. It simply cannot be a coincidence that creating places where people actually want to live - ones that are built with an eye to enduring appeal and versatility and where people can walk from their house to the shop to the local school - leads to more durable, contented and productive communities.
What, I think, we have lost in many cities around the world is the concept that how we build affects how we live, how we go about our daily business, how we engage with our fellow human beings. One unfortunate trend of the last hundred years is that there has been a much greater emphasis on individual buildings, without proper consideration for their context or their interaction with the community. At the end of the day, however, it is surely how buildings - of whatever style - stand together to make a place and build a community that matters, far more than the individual building.
For what it is worth, my own interpretation of the "neighbourhood" formula is simple - a network of legible, interconnected streets that accommodate the car while celebrating the pedestrian; the principle of encompassing work, play, shopping and living in a harmonious way within walkable distances, and the "pepper-potting" of affordable housing amongst those on the open market - all the while attempting to restore a sense of harmony, proportion and, above all, beauty into our everyday lives.
Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot think of a better place for My Foundation to partner on this challenge than Melbourne, and the work exhibited here today begins to prove that we can keep the good things people associate with suburbia - family homes, safe environments, convenience and access to a bit of green space - all in an environment that is walkable and with houses that meet contemporary needs and are natural and well ventilated. This approach - as demonstrated by My Foundation's model of a transformed block - can help to lead to communities that are more environmentally responsible, promote healthy lifestyles and provide safe and attractive family environments. My Foundation's model presents one possible option to update the popular Melbourne terraced house for contemporary urban living. It is this exchange of ideas that is so exciting, and I look forward to hearing more in coming months.
As I am sure you know, in 2008 more than half of the world's population was living in cities for the first time in history and the projections tell us that we will add two billion urban dwellers to the planet by 2050. The overwhelming majority of these people will be living in the Global South. This is surely one of the most pressing issues of the twenty first century. If we get it wrong then billions of people could be consigned to a dysfunctional and degraded existence. So, meeting the urbanization challenge in a sustainable and context-sensitive way that respects and celebrates the diversity of culture and identity, works in harmony with natural systems and avoids the sterile dreariness of an international monoculture is the core point. I understand that Premier Baillieu has focussed on sustainable urban design as a key priority for trade missions to other countries, and clearly this dialogue today can be of huge benefit not only to Australia, but to urbanizing countries around the Commonwealth and, indeed, around the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, the work you have been engaged in today responds to one of mankind's most demanding needs over the next twenty years. I am so pleased that we are able to work together to meet this challenge.