Category Archives: short essays

Startups, urban psychology, and creative cities

Pictured: the Pinterest office in San Francisco via Stuck in Customs.

Last week an important announcement was made in Sydney that will give a boost to coworking spaces and the freelancers and startups who mostly use them. The NSW Government announced it will make a significant financial contribution to a new startup hub in an 11-storey building above Wynyard Station on York St. Fishburners (I’ve always loved that name), Australia’s largest coworking space and home to hundreds of ‘high impact scalable startups’, will be an important anchor tenant of the new space at Wynyard Station. Others in the mix include Tankstream Labs, The Studio, and Stone & Chalk in what will be space for 2500 creative entrepreneurs.

It all sounds great. And I’m happy for Fishburners who have expanded rapidly since their 30-desk-one-floor-beginning in 2011. For some time now they’ve needed more space than their current (and beautiful) Harris Street space in Ultimo can provide. But if this is going to work for all involved, then some careful attention to how this new spaces is set up will need to happen. More than ‘just’ cash, this about-to-be startup hub will require some clever design thinking about soft infrastructure. If not, the creatives it seeks to attract will not come. Continue reading


The allure of consumerism (& how to deal with the aesthetic power of beautiful things)

japanese cup and tea towel

Pictured: Duetto cup from Kyoto, Japan. Linen tea towel hand printed by me (a squillion years ago)

It’s all around us, everywhere. The design of beautiful things, by clever and skillful people with exquisite materials. The last 12 years of social media have introduced me to a ton of wonderful ways that people are bringing new, to-die-for objects into the world. Things that many of us WANT. The pull of the visual, especially through Instagram over the past 5 years or so has been incredibly powerful.

We’ve all felt it. We scroll through post after post of styled and beautifully lit images, and the pull gets stronger. We convince ourselves we NEED that hand-woven, naturally dyed rug. That skillfully crafted and utterly gorgeous piece of pottery. That pair of funky, fair trade, eco-dyed, Mexican leather shoes. Continue reading


Designing for wellbeing

I’ve been interested in wellbeing for a couple of decades now. Ever since I was a yoga devotee in the relatively early days of it being in Australia in the early-mid 1990s. Certainly well before yoga became mainstream and was held in gyms (!). I can still recall how unknown it was to most people back then. I was interested in yoga and meditation and shiatsu and macrobiotic food and a whole lot of wellbeing-ness that was so ahead of things to come, I had no idea. It’s so interesting to me how we now have cafes with ‘nourish bowls’ and a whole cult of kombucha followers and pickled vegetable fanatics. Japanese people no doubt also find this a fascinating adaptation of what’s been a part of their culture for a veeeeeery long time. Will wellness continue to be of interest in the West? Is it a passing trend that will bore us in 5 year’s time? Continue reading


Leading with design thinking

BlueyCheck (far right) and earlier prototypes by Claire Metcalfe. On display now in ‘Shape’ at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney, Australia.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about design thinking for an article I recently wrote in a new design publication, Design is Political. It’s been a joyous process for me. Through my reading, the issue of leadership has surfaced, with some thought provoking ideas sprinkled through talk of what leading with a design thinking mindset looks like. One of the ideas that has captivated me is a simple, and not very novel idea: how leadership can be reinvigorated by including ‘outsiders’. Continue reading


What visuals can tell us if we really look

shoe last wall

Wall of shoe lasts at the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Sydney

Instagram is a visually powerful medium. Anyone with the slightest interest in aesthetics will attest to that. I find it both compelling and strangely addictive. Being pummelled with one exquisite image after another has a potent effect on the eyes and brain.

Artists and designers have been fully on board with Instagram since its beginnings in 2010. It’s impossible to tell just how many are using Instagram, but a quick search through hashtags like #workinprogress (or #wip) #artiststudio #studio #contemporaryart #designlife #designing will give you an indication of what’s going on in this space. Many are using social media platforms like Instagram as part of their virtual studio practice.

As researchers like Gillian Rose have said, visuals, especially those generated by digital spaces, are now a massive part of our lives. How do we make sense of what’s happening in these places/spaces? Continue reading


Living small

1957 home image via Coronare Modestus Faust

Tim Ross is currently host to a wonderful two-part television series about Australian housing from the 1950s onward – Streets of your town. I love that they’ve used the title of a Go-Betweens song to name the show. What I love more is the investigation into the nature of modern housing and Tim’s fascination as to how we have come to the point of possessing the largest average house footprint of any country on earth. Data over the last few years suggests the average Australian home is now more than 240 square metres in size despite the continually shrinking size of the average household – that is, fewer people are living in these large houses. Streets of your town brings a sense of history and even glamour to the idea of housing, and in doing so, asks us to question what has happened? Continue reading


What does it mean to be human? Art-science and ethics

human cell

Art and ethics. Science and ethics. And more and more, it’s about art-science and ethics because we live in interesting times where technology is opening up possibilities most of us never imagined might be possible. Where do you draw the line?

Here is one example currently on my radar.


How would you feel about the idea of growing your child’s skin portrait from their own cells, and then producing these on casts made of glass or other materials? Imagine you could watch that 3D portrait grow over time as the cells were fed and nurtured. So not a photograph or painting of your child, but something three dimensional that resembles their face in shape and structure, and has been grown with their own biological matter. Continue reading


Designing the city – how a bowling club became a sustainability focused food destination


Sometimes living in the city can be hard going. It’s noisy, there’s too much light at night, and the traffic can be beyond crazy making. And then, something amazing happens in the midst of all this that changes things. In a good way. Imagine if you will, the idea of a giant vegetable garden and a beautiful restaurant serving its produce landing like a space ship in the middle of a dense, urban and somewhat gritty setting. A mix of residential apartments and light industry. And only a short distance from one of the noisiest, busiest, and dare-I-say ugliest main roads in Sydney.

I’ve just described the wonderful new development that is Camperdown Commons. Continue reading


The architecture of bathing


Sento. Woodblock print by Kylie Budge.

When you think about public architecture chances are you will think of outdoor parks and spaces, monuments and perhaps even landscape architecture. But would you think about the humble bathroom? Perhaps not. And yet through large periods of history in particular cultures architecture was intimately (pardon the pun) connected to baths and the act of bathing. Continue reading