OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.

OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.
Nicholas FaillaJune 24, 2020

OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, caught up with Urban to discuss the concept of sustainability in their projects, explorative public art spaces, and international urban design competitions.

Urban.com.au: Question 1

In 2019 you were selected by the City of Hobart, Tasmania to develop the Hybrids installation. This recognition shows that Hybrids is a concept that is very much needed in Australian cities today. Are there any plans to continue going forward with this concept this year?

Matt Drysdale:
Hybrids is a multifunctional explorative public art project in Hobart and is a continuation of a theme developed for the Habitat Filter sculptures in Melbourne in 2016. Hybrids explore a provision of public art, street furniture, community services as well as street planting in places where existing inground services constrain planting.

There are multiple sculptures that also provide functional purpose across 3 separate sites. The project explores the intersectionality of the urban realm, public art, sustainability, heritage, and practical design constraints such as infrastructure and regulations. The forms are inspired by the geological formations of Kunanyi (Mount Wellington) and are part abstract boulder, parts street furniture.

This year I’m continuing to explore context-led design processes. We are working on a few projects that explore multiple levels of contextual response. These influences can be physical, intuitive, research-led, or relate back to the history of the site. Again, the urban interventions explore and respond to their immediate site constraints and context. I am exploring new challenges on multiple fronts, and not just from a sustainability aspect.

OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.
Habitat Filter plans, Southbank. Image: supplied.
OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.
Hybrids, Hobart. Image: supplied.

U: Question 2

Many of the OCD’s urban design proposals are very much in line with the concept of sustainability. To what extent has the OCD integrated this into their designs, and could you give us a few examples of sustainability in action, if any?

Perhaps the most successful example of sustainable public art I have been involved with is located in Southbank, Melbourne. Habitat Filter was a collaboration between Tim Dow, a strategic consultant, Matt Myers, an architect and myself, (no fixed profession!). The project explored the concept of multifunction purpose for the urban realm and public arts. Habitat Filter was conceived as a human-free zone within the city. We set out to re-establish a natural landscape integrated with a contemporary urban installation.  The project uses recycled materials, provides a natural habitat for native plants and wildlife, utilises sustainable solar for lighting and wetlands filtration for stormwater.

U: Question 3

Throughout the years, the OCD has participated in urban design projects and/or competitions in major cities all around the world, including Milan, Italy; Detroit, US; Busan, South Korea etc. When it comes to different cultural landscapes, what were some difficulties that you and your team encountered? 

How did you navigate through these difficulties?

Even though I’m somewhat of a social recluse, I believe it’s important to engage with and participate in the greater global design community. The international design community is now connected in ways that allow us to investigate and analysis sites in detail without even having to be on the ground. I’ve designed a lot of projects without ever leaving the studio. It teaches you to be resourceful in your research and analysis. However, this is never a substitute for visiting and experiencing a site in person to understand the place contextually and intimately. 

Travelling and working abroad does have its challenges. Being aware of and understanding the subtleties of cultural differences is always better if you have a local team member to guide and brief you before meetings, or to assist you with research before travelling. Other cultural challenges include understanding hierarchies within project teams or presenting entirely through interpreters and especially understand that different cultures have different ways of work and professional practice! The beautiful thing about our industry is that there is still a universal language. One very rewarding experience was working with and reviewing student projects at Thammasat University in Bangkok, and even though there were the obvious language and cultural differences, the energy, and interaction of the architectural critique between the students and review panel easily spans cultural and language barriers.  

However, back home and when entering international competitions, sometimes the most basic issues become the most difficult. For example, I once let down the hard work of our team by misunderstanding the receiving address of a competition submission in Busan, South Korea. I think I got the address completely back to front. And now there is an Opera House competition submission somewhere in Busan, South Korea delivered to the wrong address!

OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.
Kaohsiung Cruise Ship Terminal Competition entry. Image: supplied

U: Question 4

You had extensive experience in working with master planner Daryl Jackson. Do you mind sharing with us the creative process when collaborating with him? What did you enjoy about working with Mr Jackson?

I began as a student in 2003. Daryl encouraged responsibility and gave us many exciting opportunities right up to when I left the practice in 2014. I’ll always be truly grateful for the experience.

Daryl was always inspirational to work with, personable, and engaging and he also allowed my contemporaries and I to take a lot of responsibility during the design, testing, and exploration stages of a project. This allowed us to be able to effectively kickstart a large urban design project or building autonomously, and work with his guidance as the project progressed.

These skills learned from DJ allow me to now work on diverse and large projects whilst keeping my resourcing to a minimum because I can simultaneously manage the project, sketch, design, prepare presentations, monitor processes and write reports.

Daryl has an amazing ability to understand and instigate the design process on an urban level, incorporating key contextual influences that inform the design process all the way through to the detailed aspects of a building. He cares about every one of these scales: urban context all the way down to the nuts and bolts. This is a great skill not seen so much today given specialisation in the built environment.

He also taught us to care for all aspects of a project, pay attention and consider all elements of the design process on a project such as structure, services, traffic, and the generally ‘less sexy’ things that could be just left to other project consultants.

U: Question 5

Thanks to COVID-19, the way we interact with one another is bound to change in a post-COVID-19 world. So, in this context, when it comes to providing urban design solutions, how far do you think the OCD is able to incorporate these new ways of living (e.g. spaces where adequate social distancing can be practised, ergonomic work from home spaces etc.)? 

We are a collective biological mass of around 7.5 billion individual people who inhabit interconnecting networks and communities. In striving to connect the world efficiently and effectively, we have also created a unique Achilles heel scenario where our physical connectivity can potentially be our undoing if we are unable to create “breaks’ in the circuitry. 

We interact socially through digital and remote platforms to retain our social community. This ability has been around for some time but now necessity means that we must utilise these methods of communication and interaction.  We have had this ability for a considerable amount of time, it’s just that we are now using these methods out of necessity.

For residential design I am guessing we will see an increase in natural ventilation requirements, design for isolation requirements, increased adaptability requirements, increased requirements for private open space and balconies etc, access to natural sunlight and orientation, greater provision for deliveries and private delivery/post box space requirements.

U: Question 6

On a grander scheme of things, to what extent do you think that approaches to urban design will be affected post-COVID-19? How so?

In our generation, I don’t think Australia has really experienced something like this before. We are lucky enough to experience these things from afar and through the news. So, we are as a community, experiencing enacted safety and community health measures for the first time. Throughout history, major health events have influenced how we interact, plan, build, and design in the urban environment. Especially for city infrastructure. Perhaps now, given globalisation, it’s about looking at our contemporary transit and transportation networks and systems such as air travel, public transport, and mass events. 

We have designed these networks to work as efficiently as possible to move as many people as possible in the least amount of time as possible. The question is are we now going to introduce more “shutoff” locations to compartmentalise our networks sooner and what would this look like? This could mean the introduction of permanent changes to the public realm or, the ability to enact social distancing and emergency action plans straight away as is evidenced by other countries who have been through this before.

OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.
World Trade Centre's refurbishment. Image: supplied
OCD (Office for Collective Design) Founder Matt Drysdale, discusses sustainability and his breadth of work.
World Trade Centre's refurbishment. Image: supplied


Nicholas Failla

Nicholas is a content writer and graphic designer who is passionate about cities, architecture, urban planning and sustainable communities.

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