Home Articles CoDesign’s bid to rebuild ‘public spaces’ just got stronger

CoDesign’s bid to rebuild ‘public spaces’ just got stronger


It’s barely two years old but has spread to several countries across the Asia Pacific. Building a community health clinic in India, mapping a slum in Vietnam, a floating garden in Cambodia besides planning an outdoor classroom in our own Seaford. They have all been part of the agenda of CoDesign Studio – the first part of whose name is derived from Community-oriented Design.

The Melbourne non-profit just got stronger, in turn strengthening social enterprise as a whole. CoDesign Studio said it has won “significant start-up investment” from Social Traders, an Australian agency that is funded in part by the Victoria government. Co-Design earned the award by winning through a rigorous program simply called ‘The Crunch,’ and inspired by a similar one run in the U.K.

The Melbourne group was selected from a field of more than 40 applicant organisations. Among other things, the test included six months in an intensive business planning incubator program. The funding, and much more, will help CoDesign Studio attain business and other skills, and grow into a commercially viable social enterprise.

CoDesign Studio said it used the first instalment of the funding to open an office in Carlton, where it is considering urban renewal projects that reduce social exclusion and “improve the way our neighborhoods are imagined and built.”

Empowering people

CoDesign Studio describes itself as a multi-disciplinary design studio working with communities to plan and build sustainable built environments, through projects and design education. It was co-founded by Lucinda Hartley, a landscape architect and urban designer, and Hugh Adamson, currently the group’s marketing head. The group is headed by CEO Kate Ferguson, also an architect.

“People facing social exclusion are more likely to have fewer local amenities,” said Ferguson, citing it as a pressing issue across many urban areas in Australia. “The public and open space they have access to is more likely to be poorly managed and maintained. Everyone in that neighborhood is potentially less safe and less healthy.”

Said Adamson, “Our main point of difference is we cross over the traditional areas of community services, and building and landscape design. Our outcomes improve both the physical environment, through better public spaces, accessibility, and safety, and also the social environment, by building social cohesion and giving communities a forum to gain the skills and confidence they need to create change.”

As an example CoDesign cites a project in Frankston, Victoria, to transform a local mental health support facility. It brought together health professionals and the young people who are beneficiaries of the facility to co-design a youth-friendly environment. The group says such projects enable a wider range of people to effectively participate in the ‘making of our public spaces’.

Social Traders, established in 2008, is led by Managing Director David Brookes, a former Rio Tinto executive.