INTERVIEW – Sue Wang | International Design Director
Interview conducted by the Australia China Business Council
Our China offices were in lock down at the end of January and transitioned to Working-From-Home (WFH) toward the end of February. We had many staff away with families due to Chinese New Year, which meant we had to implement measures to coordinate WFH in unique environments, as well as assist team members to travel back home and then manage self-isolation requirements. The transition of WFH to reopening the offices, meant that by the time COVID-19 concerns ramped up in Australia, we already had early learnings. The learnings were across technology requirements for project coordination and team communication, client engagement, remote project resourcing and management, team moral and mental health management, and development of flexible return to work practices. We were able to utilise these to implement new processes and procedures in Australia quickly, which made the transition to WFH far smoother and project management more streamlined. Our teams in Australia have now all returned to the office environment, with a range of flexible practices being utilised – likely to be for the long term.
Our inherent need for social interaction and connectedness has been significantly challenged over the last few months as a result of COVID-19. But what we have all witnessed is that it is our green spaces that have helped fill the gap. Green space has long been proven to have a positive impact on how people feel and provide a platform to interact and connect through a variety of recreational, social, sporting and environmental functions and activities. We know that exercise can assist mental health, so open space elements – pathways and large grassed areas to walk and run in, plus fitness and specific sporting facilities – encourage people to exercise, which in turn makes them feel better. The sheer nature of green space and its outdoor openness means that social distancing can be maintained and still allow people to connect and interact.
COVID-19 has caused shifts in social norms which will in many areas have long term impacts on behaviour. We have seen people swarm to local green spaces, close to their home, with easy access. Our neighbourhoods in Australia traditionally are designed around larger scale parks with greater distance from the community – what we are seeing though is the significant need to move to more frequent green breaks and pop-up parks that allow and promote activity close to home. With this surge in use, we are likely to also see communities increase their feeling of ownership over local parks and green spaces and become more vocal and protective of what they have, and therefore hold governments more accountable for any modifications and maintenance to these in the future.
In our communities in China, private green space is king in new developments, and designing physical layouts that promote key uses and activity has been something we have focused on for many years. This won’t change, however we do expect to see a strong push to extend this private green space into the public realm, where public parks and open spaces connect the private spaces to allow for not only physical activity and enjoyment, but also easier movement and social distancing in outdoor spaces.
Image: Vanke Seattle, China
Whilst long term changes to how we plan our cities and towns due to COVID-19 are still forming, the way in which we conduct the facilitation of development has had to adapt significantly over the last few months in Australia. The critical need to quickly embrace technology has been a welcomed practice and new point of connection between the private and public section. We are now holding pre-lodgement and project meetings online and undertaking final development compliance processes virtually. This alone, offers an excellent opportunity for efficiency in our development and planning practices and is hopefully a long term change.
Image: Aura – City of Colour, Australia
Within Australia, at a state and local level, we are already seeing discussion around economic growth opportunities through the development industry via building a pipeline of shovel ready and infrastructure projects. We are seeing similar discussions in China around a focus on the creation of major public realm and infrastructure projects to boost the development industry.
There is significant potential for expanding our green space network in both countries. In Australia this could be achieved through land acquisition and relaxation or changes to infrastructure requirements in terms of minimum sizes and embellishments. This would make way for more pocket parks and the ability to connect across suburbs (or in China across major private developments) which would be a fantastic legacy to come out of COVID-19.
Sue is the Design Director for China and leads Place Design Group’s International Investment team based in Brisbane. Working with developers in Australia and across Asia Sue is able to add her considerable design talents as well as organisational skills to projects across all regions. Sue has over 17 years’ experience spanning all aspects of design including Residential Communities, Commercial and Tourism based projects. As Design Director Sue continues to personally work with our teams in both China and Australia to deliver award winning projects that exceed initial expectations.
Director | International Design Director