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Merrifield, and the new Urbanity

INTERVIEW WITH IAN BRIGGS, DIRECTOR, PLUS ARCHITECTURE

From the waterfront precinct of New Quay in the heart of Melbourne to the multi-award winning mixed-use design of Bundoora’s University Hill, MAB always begins work with one question in mind: what are the site-specific requirements we need to deliver true liveability?

Merrifield is no different. To learn more about its unique masterplan, we talk to one of the esteemed designers planners from Plus, Ian Briggs, about the importance of vision and balance in urban design, and how creating landscapes that satisfy our desires for the adventurous helps cater to our need for comfort.

‘Density is not a dirty word,’ says Ian Briggs when asked about the Merrifield masterplan. ‘Not when it promotes a close proximity of home life, parkland, cafes and retail, with your workplace at your doorstep.’

Such considered density is, in fact, central to the notion of a mixed-use community, where the health of residents is one of the core design principles. ‘With Merrifield, walkability, bike paths and lowered speed limits for cars have all been designed to encourage people to get and about.’

And the design process was meticulous, with the team at Plus Architecture studying just how long a street should be. ‘How far should it be from your front door to your local shop or café? We found it was 80 metres, maximum.’

Modelled after Melbourne
Unsurprisingly, when planning for liveability, they turned their gaze to Melbourne itself, one of the world’s most liveable cities.

‘We studied Melbourne laneways, street networks in established neighbourhoods and international examples, to find the right framework for streets and open spaces to inform the Merrifield masterplan’, says Briggs.

Indeed it is the combination of these aspects that underpins true urban liveability, which Briggs identifies as consisting of ‘a richness of opportunity, diverse experiences, and a community of friends and neighbours that often share a common set of principles or values.’

When asked how the Merrifield masterplan works to foster that sense of a crafted urban dynamic, Briggs points to the choices available in housing, and the work opportunities provided by the commercial centres and Merrifield Business Park.

He also underlines the availability of education and a network of open spaces. ‘These are the qualities that support a vibrant community, allowing people to stay in place as long as possible.’

Master of the masterplan
Briggs is clearly proud of what the team at Plus have achieved with the Merrifield masterplan. ‘We were surprised at how often our client would agree with some of our more utopian ideas,’ he notes. ‘We’ve been able to achieve a sense of human scale, which is important with a masterplan this large. Seeing it built and seeing people enjoy it and take ownership of it is very exciting.’

There is also much to value about Merrifield in the wider development context, according to Briggs. When asked about some of the more ambitious aspects of the masterplan, such as its City North/Waterfront precinct, he is forthright in his assessment.

‘The future growth of Melbourne must have these sorts of communities at the centre of its thinking,’ he says. ‘Without something like Merrifield showing us a better way, the status quo remains. And that,’ adds Briggs, ‘is unsustainable’.